Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Apartment

The Apartment
Click on any image to see it larger:

House is set off the road

Fenced in dog run

Private entrance with dedicated parking right there.

The Apartment:

South-facing windows...

This one shows the great light that comes in the front door:


 3/4 bath with large linen closet

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tax Credit for Bio-Fuel heat

OK. I admit it. I just blew my budget on furnishing the house.
I took advantage of the 30% tax credit and bought myself a spiffy new Wood Pellet stove.
My oil boiler is 84% efficient (not good), and oil is a dirty, imported fuel.

I found a wood pellet distributer, a local hardware store, that sells domestically produced pellets.
So, the fuel is cleaner than oil, domestic, reduces carbon emmissions - and here is the clincher... it costs about 1/2 the amount to heat a space with wood pellets as with oil.

Wood pellets are made from the saw dust that collects at lumber mills. This material used to be thrown away, and would release its carbon as it decomposed. Now we can use it in an efficient way. Some experts say that wood pellets end up being carbon neutral because the forests are replanted, creating a carbon sink. I don't fully understand how that works, but I am glad to reduce my carbon footprint!

I have lived with a wood stove before, and while the heat and ambiance is wonderful, it is an awful lot of work to stack wood and keep feeding the stove. Wood pellets are so much easier!

Here is a link to a cool website that talks about the technology:

The tax credit ends on Dec 31, 2010 (unless it gets extended, but it doesn't look like that will happen right now).

Oil, Propane and Natural Gas are expected to dramatically increase in price over the coming years. Wood products have been steadily decreasing in price over the last decades. I am excited to cut my carbon emmissions AND save money!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Home Energy Audit and Home Performance with Energy Star

It has been a while since I've blogged. Sorry for anyone who may be following my adventures!

SO much has happened, I want to get it all down, but I will stick with one subject at a time.

I had a Home Energy Audit. It was depressing and exhilarating all at the same time.

Picture The Professor from Gilligan's Island crossed with Crocodile Dundee (yes, I have just aged myself - Google these people if you don't know who I am talking about). This Professor Dundee guy came dressed in camouflage. He wasn't a hunter or in the military - he just liked pockets. Lots and lots of pockets. He needed them to hold all his gadgets and gizmos.

Professor Dundee started in my attic, then worked his way down and all around my house, just like a home inspector - well a home inspector that crawled into some very tight and yucky places. He looked for obvious leaks and gaps in insulation, potential mold hazards and efficiency of the heating system.

Next came the gizmos (those are larger than gadgets in case you are wondering). The best gizmo is the blower door. This is a vinyl sheet that is taped securely around the front door opening, so securely that it is air-tight. In the middle of this blower door is a super powered fan and some various gauges. We closed all the windows and turned on the fan. It was amazing at how fast the air was sucked out of my house. I accidentally opened a door and had to physically fight it from slamming back shut.

Once there was a substantial difference in air pressure between in the inside and the outside, the gadgets came out. One took thermal pictures and actually showed streaks depicting airflow. I could see air rushing into the house from all the cracks and gaps. The worst single offender was the hatch to the attic.

There were humidometers, presurometers, and I think a warp core.

I found out that my boiler is 84% efficient (which totally sucks). I found out that I have NO insulation on the ground floor - again... sucking.

My dryer vent is more of a gaping hole of rodent invitation (sucky suckage).

There should be a few more holes in my house that don't exist... like vents in the bathroom. OK, that doesn't suck. It more blows, which is just as bad as sucking.

What did I find out????

It would be too expensive to insulate the basement. I wouldn't see the cost recovery for decades.

I should insulate between floors to at least capture the heat on the main floor, so only one floor will be heating the neighborhood.

I need to insulate the attic and build a fancy system to make the attic hatch airtight.

I should also put insulation around my hot water pipes.

If I get a rigid vent for my dryer, it will reduce fire hazard and increase my dryer's efficiency.

There is much, much more I found out, which is all in a dandy report.

Every little thing is itemized - how much it would cost, how much savings on my oil bill I should expect each year, and how long it will take to recover the cost (ie how long the improvement will take to pay for itself).

If I do everything recommended, it will cost me $3,214 and take 3 years and 9 months to start seeing a positive return on my investment (with today's oil prices).


There is a program in many states that will help pay for these improvements!!!

In my state, if I qualify and am selected, this program will give me $3 for every $1 I put into recommended energy improvements.

I went to my local electricity utility companies website and filled out a form. I found out that my house ranks pretty high on their suckometer. This program has run out of money before, and it gets re-funded every so often. I hope I get picked!

Wish me luck!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Windows, windows, windows...

First, may I say that the town building inspector in my town is totally cool. I was expecting him to tell me that I couldn't do what I wanted to do, or that it would be super complicated and expensive. He wasn't like that at all. He wanted my home to be safe, and then made all sorts of great suggestions on how to save money.

So... if I want to add a legal accessory apartment on the ground floor, I need windows to be large enough, low enough and slide side to side, so than a person can "egress" in case of fire. I guess that answers my question about if I should replace the windows!

Here is what I found out about windows in general... many people look to replace their windows first when inproving their energy efficiency. This isn't always (or even usually) the best place to start. Think about it: heat rises. Heat does not move side to side naturally, it wants to go UP.

Picture a straw in a soft drink. If you wanted to stop the action of soda coming out the top. Assume further that there are a few holes in the side of the staw (like windows), where soda is entering the straw. If you wanted to stop the action of soda coming out the top, should you plug the holes in the side or plug the hole in the top???

The correct answer is the plug the hole in the top. The top of your home is the attic. Attic insulation is often the cheapest, easiest way to increase your energy efficiency.

The best way to figure out where to put your money is to have an energy audit. I am doing that next week and will write about it when it is done.

So, I was going to put off replacing the windows. They are original, single pain, inefficient kind, but attic insulation was going to come first. Now I know that I have to replace the windows on the lower floor, so why not get an estimate?

So, I went to the Better Business Bureau and found a window company with an A+ rating. The companies website details the energy efficiency tax rebate - up to $1500! I am going for double pane, Energy Star rated windows. It is important to make sure that the windows are Energy Star for your part of the country! The standards are different, depending on the weather conditions.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Move! (and plumbing and refrigerators)

The first week in my new house has been a whirlwind!
Let's start with the packing....

Boxes are expensive, resource intensive and usually get used one time and then discarded. I did my entire move with re-used boxes. I found some at work and used some that diapers and electronics came in. The best boxes (and the ones I used most) came from the grocery store.
Banana boxes are the best! Super sturdy, hand grips on the side, lids, and FREE! They are the perfect size and stackable.

Next... I debated about hiring movers, renting a U-Haul, and making a bazillion trips in my car.
After crunching numbers and thinking about carbon emissions, it became clear that hiring movers was the way to go for me. They can pack the material in their truck so tightly, that they use a smaller truck and do it in only one trip. They ended up costing me $500. A U-Haul would have cost me $200 with mileage - and many, many hours of my time.

I checked the Better Business Bureau's webpage to find a mover. There were SO MANY movers with "F" ratings, and only a few with "A" ratings. I hired the closest "A" company and was very pleased with the movers.

Next... there was a ton of work that had to be done in the house. All of the faucets had to be replaced. This is where I did buy some new things. I started with the cheap faucets from the Big Box store (I won't name it here, but I'm sure you know what I'm referring to). I have a good friend who is a plumber, but would have checked the Better Business Bureau if I didn't know a good plumber.
When my plumber friend saw the faucets I bought, he told me that the big box store has fixtures specially made for them - with cheaper plastic parts. They are pretty, but won't last long. My plumber was able to get pretty faucets (with non-plastic parts) wholesale, so they didn't cost me any more.

Then... I turned on the refrigerator. It made a loud humming noise and then no noise at all.


I found an Energy Star fridge at Sears and had it delivered. I read tons of reviews and Energy Guides. Here is a summary:
The most efficient refrigerators are the ones with the freezer on top. This is because the freezer is at eye level, so you don't have to leave the door open as long. Freezer on the bottom don't perform as well because it takes longer for the average person to find their food. Even worse is the freezer with the drawer that pulls out. That causes a rush of warm air to enter the freezer and it has to work that much harder to get back to the set temperature.

French door refrigerators are also inefficient. Opening the tall door allows cool air to spill out quickly. You also need a larger unit to get the same amount of usable space.

I didn't opt for an ice maker or built in water. Ice trays and the faucet work just fine, thank you.

I am getting the old refrigerator fixed and will put it on the ground floor if/when I get a permit for a legal apartment down there.
This is a whole new area for discussion, which I won't go into great detail about here. The short version is that landlords should get permits if they have an apartment. Building code officers make sure the unit is safe. Insurance companies may find property owners in default if an illegal apartment is found, and the property owner may face unnecessary liability.
So I say - get the permit!!!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bathtubs... to replace or not replace

I've been thinking a lot about bathtubs lately.
Having a baby, I need a good bathtub. The one in my soon-to-be house has cracked porcelain down the middle and around the drain. This is the perfect environment for bacteria to collect. No good for brand new baby bums.

So... here are my options:
1) Bath fitting cover (I won't name names, but you know what I mean)
2) Re-glazing, aka re-surfacing
3) Try to find a used tub in good condition
4) Buy a new tub

My concerns are indoor air quality, mold control, toxins, and keeping as much stuff out of a landfill as possible.. oh yeah and my SANITY!

I've spent more than 10 hours searching reviews, reading responses to questions posted on Yahoo Answers and talking to my real estate friends. Here is what I found...

1) Bath fitting costs on average $2,500.
I gutted the bathroom in my last property down to the studs by myself. I hung cement backerboard, built a frame for a new whirlpool tub, installed the tub and tiled the whole thing for less than $1,000 (plus $600 for plumber and electrician, but that was because I went all crazy with a new electric line, roman tub filler and tub spray).
Too much money!!!
I read a bunch of reviews that complained that mold was prolific behind the new tub fitting.

2) Re-glazing - $400 for the tub, $1,000 for the tub and all the tile in the bathroom.
The price didn't scare me too much. The glaze can also cover the caulk and grout, sealing it and making it easy to keep the tub clean.
OK, now for the bad news. Re-glazing uses a caustic chemical abrasive and automobile or airplane paint. Reviews said that the fumes were so bad that people had to stay in a hotel for days after the process. More common were reviews that said the new glaze started to peel a few weeks after the process. There are bubbles, streaks, discoloration, etc. It seems like this is something home sellers do just before listing their homes for sale. NOT a long term solution.

I searched and searched for a glazing procedure that was non-toxic and had no VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds). I found some companies in California, but nothing here in the east.
I really wanted to go this way because it would keep a great cast iron tub out of the landfill, but it looks like I would have to rip out the tub shortly after this treatment and that we would inhale some seriously nasty fumes.
Bottom line is that the porcelain on a cast iron tub is baked on in a high temperature kiln. You just can't get the same level of coating with a spray kit.

3) Try to find a used tub in good condition.
I am going to try this. There is a ReStore near me (a thrift store of used home improvement items that benefits Habitat for Humanity).
The main issue I have here is that I need to find a tub with the same dimensions as my current tub so I don't have to rip out tile and/or walls. Augh.
I really hope that works!

4) Buy a new tub.
I might have to go this way, but donate the old tub to ReStore if they will take it (or give it away on
The local big box home improvement stores do carry the same sized tubs that would slide right into the space where the current tub resides.

As green as I want to be, I won't let my daughter suffer any ill effects from mold or toxic fumes. I simply will not put her at risk if I can avoid it.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Doing More with Less

When I was single and childless, I lived very comfortably. I had season tickets to the symphony. I shopped for new clothes once or twice a month, took trips and ate out at nice restaraunts regularly. I drove a new Saab. I never packed my own lunch for work, and I bought fancy coffee drinks every day - the kind that require making 10 decisions when ordering.

Now that I have a baby in daycare and I was paying 1/2 of the expenses on a big house, I found myself totally broke, dependeding on my credit cards to make ends meet. Despite having paid cash for my new car, I had to refinance it.

Luckily, I am now free of the debt. I can't tell you how good that feels. My next goal is to live my life completely and totally without credit cards. They are a trap! Human nature wants things NOW and wants lots of those things.

A few months ago, I packed up all my belongings and put them in storage. I have been living with very few clothes, and almost no "stuff". I have resisted going clothes shopping (I only need to drop ONE size and I will be in all my pre-pregnancy clothes).

I have been working 2 jobs and squirelling away money to buy the house I am closing on in 29 days. I sell real estate on the side and just sold a house. I got a nice income tax refund. This money is making me feel rich and I am constantly tempted to buy things. Not extravagent things, but lots of little things.

Once I live on a quiet side street, I want to start running again. My old running shoes are dirty and tired. It is tempting to buy a new pair, but my old ones still have spring.

I want to buy new clothes for my daughter, but I've been blessed with enough friends and hand-me-downs that I don't really need to. Oh and the toys... the toys. There are so many that I want to buy for her.

My dog smells a little and needs his nails trimmed. It is so much easier to take him to a GREAT groomer I know at his old Doggie Daycare facility - of course I would throw in a day of doggie day care. Melvin really deserves it for being such a good, gentle, tollerent dog.

I want to go out to lunch and have a fancy coffee drink, the kind that requires I make 10 decisions when ordering.

I want to go to the movies and see a concert and, get new glasses, and buy fancy lettuce that comes pre-washed in a bag, and dye the grey out of my hair, and buy a fat bottle of Bordeaux, and, and, and...

What I have come to realize that all these wants do come with a rush of excitement. New stuff is great. However, that new stuff rush wears off pretty quickly and it really doesn't bring a level of happiness that matches the sense of stress that comes from being broke.

So now I am embracing the simple life. Living simply brings just as much hapiness, PLUS it is easier to keep a clean house with less stuff, AND it reduces so much stress!

Budha was on to something.
I can't believe it took me almost 40 years to figure that out.

Monday, March 1, 2010

ReStore! The shop that benefits Habitat for Humanity

I have known about this place for a while, but only now started to look at it with more interest.
ReStore is similar to the Salvation Army and Goodwill, only it is for home improvement.

People donate things like kitchen cabinets, refrigerators, dishwashers, toilettes, faucets, doors, etc. so that other people can re-use them in their home remodel. Here is the general webpage:

My local ReStore has a great webpage with pictures of some of their big ticket items - bath tubs, chandeliers, sinks, sinks, sinks. I am SO excited! My house needs a new bath tub (the old one is cracking), and a shower stall (I am upgrading a 1/2 bath to be a 3/4 bath). I need all new faucets too.

Not only will I save a ton of money, but this store keeps these items out of the landfill.
In many cases, the older stuff (i.e. cast iron bath tubs) is better than the new stuff (acrylic bath tubs).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Humidity Sensing Bathroom Fan!

Broan QTRE100S Ultra Silent Humidity Sensing Fans with Sensaire Technology.

This is my exciting new discovery: Energy Star rated humidity sensing bathroom fan! It turns on automatically when it senses a change in humidity, then turns itself off 5-60 minutes later.

This is huge. In my current house, we didn't run the bathroom fan all the time. It makes a lot of noise and I couldn't hear my daughter while I was in the shower if the fan was on. I noticed a significant difference in the rate that mildew grew in the shower when the fan didn't run!

I also plan to have a roommate in the ground floor of my new house. I've found my first roommate, who is awesome and will most likely be very responsible, but I can't guarantee that future ones will pay as much attention. Since the ground floor is partially below grade, it is extra important that humidity doesn't build up.

I'm putting one of these in the main floor's bathroom too. I have a teenager in my future!

The unit I like best is a low end Broan. This company, who also owns NuTone has a technology that doesn't sense the level of humidity, but rather a change in humidity - this is important because the other fans (with a humidistat) would run all summer in this climate! or I would have to change the settings a few times a year.

The low end models shut off automatically after 20 minutes and are not completely silent. The more expensive models have timers that you can program to run anywhere from 5 - 60 minutes, and are almost silent. I think bathroom fans should have some sound. What else would you use to drown out bathroom sound effects??? The more expensive fans come with lights, night lights, heaters, are recessed, etc.

They all come with a switch to override the automatic settings, which is nice to vent out the room after cleaning it. The reviews that I read about this fan tell me that this fan does a great job of sucking out moisture and fumes.
The fan I like is about $100 more than your basic manual bathroom fan. It may take a while to see the cost redcovery in the electric bill, but avoiding the risk of a serious mold infestation is worth more than $100 to me!

*** UPDATE***

I found a good bathroom fan at ReStore! It looks new and I believe it is an ENERGY STAR model. When I installed it, the fan did buzz a little, but a little adjustment of the fan blades, it now hums quietly. $20. Sweet!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

More Places for Free Stuff!

I got a couple of new suggestions for places to find usable stuff - for free.

1) The town dump.
No, I don't mean for your to go dumpster diving.
That's just gross.
The town dump in my new town has a Swap Shop. In this treasure island, people donate the good stuff they want to get rid of. I don't know how many times I have driven by the swap shop without stopping. I always see a treadmill or a NordicTrack (we have ALL bought one of these at one time or another and ended up dusting it until we came to terms with the fact that we won't use these things at home!)

I happen to live in a college town. A college town full of fairly wealthy college students, whose parents often set them up in a rental, buy all new kitchen gear, only for it to be discarded at the end of the school year. There are also visiting faculty, faculty who move on, etc.

I close on April 5 + school gets out in mid May = JACKPOT!
There is another turnover of rentals in mid August.

2) I was looking for a Mom's group in my new town and scanned the Yahoo! Groups. Not only did I find a Mom's group, I found a Swap group who posts all sorts of free stuff.

I think I can do this! Not only can I get gently used household items, I think I can get most of them for free (my wallet is doing a happy dance now).