Saturday, June 28, 2008

what drought?

Our friend Robert lent us a power washer more than a year ago, and sort of wants to use it himself (sheesh, can you imagine the nerve?!), so the first heat wave we hauled out a ladder and had at it.

The fascia board cleans up amazingly well, but the siding is a little more stubborn. It's a fine line between almost clean and bare, unpainted wood..

And the back of the house, which faces south, had a lot of paint that was just slightly sort of sticking to the house. I had to be so gentle with the spray that it barely made a dent in the filth.
Well.. that's not entirely true.. I washed off a TON of dirt (and a bit of paint), and there are some spots that are cleaner, but that mostly seems to emphasize all the unclean areas.

Another reason we haven't posted much is that we broke yet another camera! Our cannon powershot sd500 that had a super awesome underwater case we could take scuba diving broke. The pathetic thing is, it was the 2nd time that happened to us. The first one broke in exactly the same way, but we bought another one (used, they're not still made) because only that model fits the case. Turns out, it's an extremely common problem and the camera is now a pile of junk.

So we bought a waterproof, shock resistant, compact little olympus.. we'll see how that goes. Dan was hit by enough water to take down a lesser camera, so so far so good.

And in the spirit of carbon offsets, we skipped a couple showers and I watered the plants with runoff I saved in a bucket. Sadly, the water made it's way into some areas that are now releasing that not quite forgotten rats nest smell, but at least no one will notice the not showering thing..

Friday, June 27, 2008

going in circles..

It's been awhile since I posted anything.. seems like it's been awhile since any progress has been made. We've been going in circles a bit with getting the radiant fins up because I didn't want to run them under the kitchen cabinets, but we're not exactly sure where that's going to be.
To that end, I wanted to hire some expert advice on planning the space in the kitchen, and in a couple key other spots in the house so we could have a long-range plan we could work from.

I asked around, we asked here, and I searched the internet for designers.. The first round of cold emails got about a 5% response rate. Of the people who did call back, most were very professional and either said up front they didn't want the job because they only do complete beginning-to-end renovations (most of these folks suggested other people that would be more suited), or made arrangements to come see the place.

Some of the people that came to do an onsite consultation charged, some said they would charge but didn't, and all were punctual and professional. I also went out to a couple places and worked from the house and kitchen plans Dan made up.

One place in Berkeley I'd heard about from several different places including several recommendations from the Berkeley Parents Network I kept giving up on, but then kept trying again because I'd hear another great thing about them.. they didn't respond at all to my first email, so after a month of not making very much progress finding a designer I called and spoke someone who suggested I come in for a consultation. They preferred to have the appts M-F, but I have to work if I expect to be able to pay for cabinets, and they were able to arrange an appointment for me to come in on a Saturday. The quality of the cabinets seemed good, it was a line we hadn't heard of before, but the person helping us informed us after about an hour that he was the "B team," and that the "real designer" only worked M-F. OK, fine.. a copy of our drawings and the details we discussed would be left with the designer, who would get back to us with an estimate.
After a week I called and left a message wondering when we could expect the estimate. After another week of no response at all I called 4 times in 3 days and, except for the last time, was told my call would be returned in an hour or so, or when so-and-so got back from lunch, or from the job site. The last time I called I said I was getting the impression they didn't want to work with me and was told so-and-so had been at a job site all week and would call when he returned to the office. That was more than a week ago.
It's things like that that have been eating up the time and sucking the life out this project.
All told I think I talked with about 20 designers, and met with about 9

After everyone we've talked with, we've decided to go, ironically, with the very first person who called me back after my original query. Took awhile for us to actually get a chance to talk, and then to meet, but I think she'll have some good ideas for us. We've also had some blog readers submit really helpful ideas so I'm feeling pretty confident that the plan we come up with will be one that will be one we can live with for the rest of our lives.

I'm also talking to local cabinetmakers about pricing, and most of them also offer at least as much design services as are needed to get from the floorplan to cabinets on the walls.

So things are inching along.. I could start on the "we've been really busy at work" sob story, but I don't think that's going to change, so we're trying to figure out how to keep up a reasonable rate of progress.. hopefully there will be more interesting news to report soon

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Greenday (building, that is)

This weekend after we finished our chores (ie the 8th coat of varnish on our doors!), we headed out to the Build it Green Home Tour in Alameda county. None of the houses were actually in Alameda, but several were in Berkeley and Oakland and we made it to 6 of the 8 in the area. One telling similarity among all the homes on the tour was that they were owned by someone who had a green service to sell to homeowners. It made it a little like a commercial that we had the privilege of paying to see.

Our first stop was an amazing place in the Oakland hills.. I took pictures of the green roof and the impressive solar array, but I found out as we were leaving that the builder/homeowner is launching his own website this week, so didn't want anyone taking pictures, or certainly posting them online. This place was a showroom of every green product/practice you can get when money is no object.

Every house we went to had hydronic radiant heat (it's apparently THE green thing), so it was helpful to talk to people about how difficult it was to install and how happy they were with it. The universal opinion was that it's the best way you could possibly heat your house, and no one we talked to would go back to a forced air system.

In fact, the only negative we heard (and it's related, but not even about the radiant heat) was about using the same solar hot water panels for heat and household hot water (for showers, laundry, etc.) I'd always thought that would be an efficient use of space and resources, but it makes sense that the uses/needs are so different, that to optimize the system for both would not be possible.

We got to check out LOTS of manifolds, and more than a couple boilers, hot water heaters, and storage tanks. One person was using a pretty fancy hot water heater as a storage tank because it was so well insulated.
This house was using an on demand (tankless) water heater to heat water for both the radiant heat and the household hot water. That was another thing I was interested to hear about, and unlike the issues with the solar water doing dual duty, this seemed to be going very well. Thanks, I'm sure, in no small part to the super-insulated storage tank.

So I didn't take any pictures of the fancy recycled countertops, or cork floors, or plyboo cabinets.. but look at all the pretty (and clearly labeled in this case!)

I did manage to tear myself away from the boiler room of this house long enough to get pictures of the radiators we're planning on for our master bedroom. I didn't even notice them in this room, Dan had to point them out to me! Of course, that has a lot to do with the fact that the walls are white, which is not something that will happen in our house (once the top-to-bottom, end-to-end coat of gloss white oil-based paint is eliminated, that is..). We might just need to pick an acceptable color from the radiator line, and paint the walls to match. I was a little less excited when they were taller and a different color than the walls.

I somehow managed not to get any pictures of my favorite house on the tour - a bungalow that actually looked and felt like a family could live there. But I did get a shot of the toy they had out back!

<-- How's this for a supergreen incentive to exercise?! Apparently you can rent these from a guy in Berkeley!

It was an interesting day, even if some of the products and practices seemed well beyond our monetary means.. The website for the Build It Green organization does have tons of resources on their site that look really helpful, and hopefully the education they and their members can provide to builders, homeowners and others in the housing industry will make a dent, and start bringing these ideas into the reach of the average joe.