Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Raiders of the Lost Insulation

The shower is completely tiled, and while the grout is curing, I've been working on other things. Yesterday I used my newly revamped ladder to paint under the eaves above the back windows. Still a pain in the back to paint over your head (how did Michelangelo do the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?), but much easier with the ladder levelers and stabilizer making the whole thing easier to position (it now goes around windows!) and much, much more stable.

Today I went and picked up some free drywall (I love!), and rented a jackhammer to remove the old front porch, which will be enclosed and become part of the kitchen. It was covered in flat pieces of sandstone with bricks around the inside edges. I figured it was a good day to do it because Katarina was at work, and our neighbors on that side of the house were out of town today.

I'd had some (very) vague hopes that I'd be able to remove the front of the step that sticks out beyond the foundation, and then just build the floor over the rest of the porch. But those hopes were quickly dashed when I discovered the wood behind and under the porch was rotted (with some clear signs of termites, too -- ugh). So I took out all the stone, cement and bricks. The front of the step was an odd (well, not odd by the standards parts of this house were built by) collection of concrete, sandstone, sand, bricks and wood. So the front part of the step took me 2 1/2 hours to remove, alternating between the jackhammer, and stopping to remove bits of stone, concrete, brick, insulation, wood, dead rat, and...wait...what? Yes, I found the tomb of legendary pharaoh, King Ratsrkhamun.

He was entombed in a space in the porch, with no obvious entrance (and clearly for him, no exit.) What was more odd (though not as startling a discovery) was that the space also had some insulation in it. Not the 1940s-era cellulose stuff that was near the main DWV vent stack, but some more modern fiberglass batt insulation. Besides the weird cellulose stuff, and some incorrectly installed stuff under the living room floor, the house had zero insulation when I moved in. So what the heck were they doing insulating the front porch??

Anyways, after slow progress on the front of it, the rest went quickly. It was two layers of concrete, and a layer of sandstone or brick on top. Between the multiple layers and the flex of the wood underneath, it came out pretty quickly. I've still got a lot of work to do to remove and replace the rotted wood, but I was able to get the jackhammer back in under 4 hours. Yay!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Is Bamboo Flooring Green?

Recently Todd over at Today's Green Construction asked "Is Bamboo Flooring Green?". I asked a similar question last year about the greenness of different flooring options. I hadn't heard about widespread clear cutting of old-growth forests to plant bamboo but he indicated there were many references about it if I searched on Google. I don't know about "many" since I had to search for a while, but the upshot of my searching suggests that much of the bamboo flooring currently available is not green, particularly the cheap stuff (sorry, Home Depot and Lowe's). But if you're careful to get bamboo made with non-VOC glues, properly aged, and now FSC certified, it can be.

There's still the issue of shipping it from China or Vietnam to the U.S., which is a non-trivial problem. Though cork mostly comes from Portugal, linoleum from Canadian linseed, and tile from Italy or Mexico, so there's no 'free lunch'. As with many things these days, it's a balancing act, finding the right products for your needs and finding the greenest option available. Linoleum looks pretty good these days, though only has a life expectancy of 30 to 40 years.

The other thing that came up during my recent searching were questions about the durability of bamboo. Some people report lots of dents and dings, and some report gaps between the boards. The first is more common with darkened bamboo, because it's darkened by heating it and that weakens it. But it's much more common to have dents and dings because it's cheap. Bamboo grows very quickly (it can be harvested in as little as 3 years), but if it's not aged for a couple of years, it doesn't harden (lignify). The problem with gaps is generally an installation problem. Bamboo (which is a grass), like wood, expands and contracts depending on the moisture content. So the first thing to do before installing bamboo or wooden flooring is to let it sit in the area where it will be installed, to acclimate to the moisture. Obviously there will still be changes in moisture, particularly in places with hot, humid summers and cold, dry winters, but skipping the acclimation is pretty much guaranteed to cause problems.

While our bamboo floor isn't from FSC-certified bamboo, it's made using non-VOC glues, and has thus far been very resistant to dents and scratches. It's beautiful, and we've been very happy with it so far. So is bamboo flooring green? It can be, but not all bamboo flooring that's available is green, so shop wisely.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Old Things Made New

We have a L-shaped sofa bed that I probably bought 20 years (it still has one of the more comfortable beds in a sofa bed that I've slept on). For some time now, the built-in recliner has had a mind of its own. You can be sitting there comfortably, and then *bang!* the footrest flies up. We'd (sort of) gotten used to it, but last week we had some of Katarina's visiting Swedish cousins over for dinner, and one of them got the randomly-firing-ejector-seat treatment. So yesterday I decided to see if there was anything I could do to fix it. After carefully pulling back the cloth (and layers of dust bunnies) from the bottom, I quickly determined that there was a broken spring. (I cleverly deduced this by having it fall out when I pulled back the cloth.) Fortunately the spring was broken near the end, so by bending it a little I was able to reattach it, et voilĂ ! We can now safely sit in the recliner without fear of ejection. As an added bonus, the footrest now comes up at a more sane speed than it has for a while. Of course, the upholstery still needs cleaning again, but it's nice to be able to sit in peace.

On house-related matters, Katarina and I painted most of the exterior a while back. But there's been a section under the eaves on the back of the house, above the bedroom windows that is a pain in the patooky to reach because the base of the ladder has to sit on the side of the hill, and with the windows, there's not much room for the top of the ladder to scootch around as things shift. I considered getting a Little Giant or the like, but some of the positions on the other side of the house would challenge even that. And then there's the fact I've already got 3 ladders (an extension ladder, a longer and heavier extension ladder, and a medium step ladder) and didn't really want to get another one. So I looked around and ended up getting some ladder levelers, and in the way that well done online shopping sites can incite one to do, I got a stabilizer, too. Today I installed the levelers (it requires removing the existing feet and drilling some holes in the legs of the ladder) and tried it out, and between the two, it's like having a new ladder. It's never been this stable before except in those few places where the ground is perfectly level. Good stuff!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Math Doesn't Add Up

I'm still working away on finishing the tile in the shower. Due to bad estimating on my part ("He estimated...poorly." Well, I added up my measurements poorly), I don't have enough bullnose pieces to finish it (they're on order). But I've got the floor and all but the bottom row of the walls covered. I'll grout everything else then finish the bottom row (and the lip where the bullnose goes, of course) so the bottom row can lap the grouted edges of the floor.

I'm starting to gather that tile isn't the most eco-friendly floor covering because of its manufacturing, but besides plasticy liners, there aren't a lot of other options for showers. And the tile will last a long time (75-100 years), so it's the greener of the two options. Taking a shower, is of course, better than taking a bath on the green scale, because it uses less significantly less water (2-3 gallons per minute vs. 30+ gallons).

Speaking of green, there's a nice little summary over at TreeHugger of the 8 most important actions you can take to go green. It's summarized from a lengthy but interesting e-book by David MacKay called Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air. A couple are home-based (e.g., turn down your heat, switch to compact fluorescents), but two of the biggest are transportation-based (e.g., stop flying, drive less and slower). While some of those things are difficult, the nice part is that they all save money.

But the math underlying it all suggests that we all need to do those things and more, as well as develop renewable energy sources. Adding up all the possible renewable energy sources and even nuclear (there's a finite supply of uranium, too) suggests that new energy sources alone won't add up to enough given our current energy usage. We need to reduce our usage levels and develop renewable sources.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Bored on the 4th of July

OK, technically it was cut with a tile-cutting hand saw, not bored, but the title was too good to pass up. Today I worked on the long-neglected shower. It's been sitting 1/3rd tiled for quite some time. Until my ladder levelers get here, I decided it would be safer to leave the last bit of painting over the windows for now.

A happy 4th of July to my American readers! While I love my country, I frequently find myself at odds with those who run it because of the decisions they make. I read an interesting article on CNN today about a recent poll: "69 percent of adult Americans who responded to a poll June 26-29 said the signers of the Declaration of Independence would be disappointed by the way the nation has turned out overall." Yowza! 69%? That suggests a lot of people feel that way, too. I wonder how much is the war in Iraq and the countless deaths, how much is the terrible economy, and what other factors enter into it.

And since it's the 4th of July, it's time for fireworks, right? Well, not so many here in extra flammable California. Apparently because of droughts all over the place, personal fireworks have been banned a lot of places (they've long been banned here in the Oakland hills), but a number of cities have canceled the big displays, too. Which isn't all bad, given the environmental impact of fireworks (partly the noise, but mostly the toxic ingredients). There are various attempts at 'greener' fireworks, but even with those, how good can it be for the environment to blow stuff up (even if it is fun) just for a celebration?