Jun 232017

Quick shout out to the ReStore!

Habitat For Humanity opened one of their ReStores in Maple Ridge and I have found some great stuff for Hammond Forever House.

Last Thursday I noticed some toilets there that were still in their boxes. What we really want was a toilet like the one we had in Japan which had a little sink on top of the tank so you could wash your hands with the water that was refilling the tank–what a simple solution to reduce wasted water! We haven’t found one of those in Canada, so we’ll settle for a dual flush toilet that uses as little water as possible. (Update: I found one on the interweb and it looks like you can have it shipped to you in Canada! Find it here for a mere $468.00. Oh, wait, it says “This item is not for sale”. Never mind, we can’t afford it anyway. Why can’t we have nice things??)

I came back to the ReStore the next day and another customer had checked out all the toilets very carefully before I got there. He was taking one told me about the others. There were some toilets without boxes, and some pieces, but there was also a perfectly good dual flush toilet brand new in box.

How much? $130!

This thing is going in the new kids bathroom upstairs so it doesn’t have to be fancy (but it is) but it does have to conserve water.

The ReStore guy told me it had come from Home Depot.

Later that day I happened to be in Home Depot with some birthday gift cards burning a hole in my pocket and I took a look at the toilets (as you do).

I don’t think I saw the exact model–it was probably discontinued–but I did see this one:I’m pretty sure that’s pretty much the same pretty toilet. But it was $200 cheaper at the ReStore.

I bought a “hardly-used” dual flush toilet for the main downstairs bathroom from craigslist for $100, but I think this is a better deal. As so often happens on craigslist, the owner bought a new toilet to spruce up the home he was selling and then learned the new buyer planned to demolish the home, so he rescued the toilet. We haven’t had any problems with it so far and I’ll let you know if there are any problems with the ReStore toilet.

Save-The-Planet note: it is always better for the planet to re-use something instead of buying new. Sometimes it takes a little time to find the right thing, but it always saves energy and resources and it always saves us money, too.

Feb 032017

I’m changing up the blog a little.

I wanted to give a play by play of the project, but it hasn’t been possible. Most recently, the goal of getting into the house by Christmas made me abandon writing altogether.

The next deadline is renting out the Little Yellow House again. That means moving everything out of it and making room for all of it in the big house. That, in turn, means finishing the upstairs rooms and basement.

On top of all that are the simple but essential needs to rest, re-learn how to live in the (unfinished) house, and re-connect with my family after so many months of renovation stress.

My posts need to be shorter and snappier. My habit of writing lengthy and detailed essays must end. You don’t have time to read them and I don’t have time to write them.

So once I get the photos somewhere that I can use them, check in regularly and I’ll paint you a complete picture, one piece at a time.

Thanks for visiting Hammond Forever House

Jan 222017

Yesterday we stayed home and worked on the house.

The kids had a couple of friends over who had slept over in the living room because the bedrooms upstairs are not finished yet.

In the morning, I worked on adding more insulation to the sloped ceilings in my son’s room and Leanne made a big batch of soup for everyone–lunch for all the kids, lunch for Leanne’s parents and cousin who were coming over to help on the house, and meals for the future.

Later, Leanne’s dad worked with me to finish making an insulated door for the new root cellar in the basement, her mom worked on cleaning up the mess we had been ignoring in the kitchen, Leanne and her cousin worked on clearing out the little yellow house and the kids…continued being kids.

Vancouver yesterday. Photo credit: The Georgia Straight

Meanwhile, millions of people all over the world gathered, rallied and marched in international women’s marches. More photos like this one can be found on The Georgia Straight’s website.

We like to think what we’re doing with our house–exploring and sharing what it’s like for regular folk to preserve and retrofit a beautiful old house–is doing some good in the world but today Leanne and I both woke up regretting we hadn’t taken a day off and gone into Vancouver to join all those people on the right side of history.

There is so many actions we can take to make the world a better place, sometimes it’s just hard to choose.

Jul 192016

Sometimes Shakespeare really nails it.

Lately I have been hearing Leanne say some lines that really echo human-caused Climate Change.

She is playing Titania, The Faerie Queen, in the Bard on the Bandstand production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Midsummer Nights Dream Poster

I am playing Oberon, the Faerie King.

The King and Queen are not getting along and it’s causing all kinds of problems.

Titania describes it like this:

Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems‘ thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.

Oberon responds with:

Do you amend it then; it lies in you:
Why should Titania cross her Oberon?

Which is a pretty typical response to the global threat of Climate Change, isn’t it? If we’re not denying it’s happening, we’re expecting someone else to do something about it.


The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania by Sir Joseph Noel Paton


Jun 212016

Flashback to December 11, 2013 at 4:59pm.DSCN1534

Two chimneys: one for the oil furnace, one for the wood-burning insert in the fireplace.

A light dusting of snow melts soonest where the 2X6 rafters are all that lies between the warm air of the kids’ bedrooms upstairs and the roof. They show like ribs on a feverish, bedridden child.


At the back of the house the cat door leaks heat into the neighbourhood. Among the clearly defined rafters are splotches of dark where the snow has melted around the plumbing and  roof vents as well as above the joint between the original house and the shed addition.

Between the rafters in these photos–under those rectangular blocks of snow–is fiberglass batt insulation. Its insulation value is probably about R14.

As we get ready to fill the roof rafters of the newly renovated house with insulation, it’s important to look back and see what we’re aiming for. R28 spray foam insulation plus an addition of approximately R14 batts. DSC03911

That makes R42–an R28 improvement over the old house.

This winter, and in every winter from now on, when it snows on Hammond Forever House, all you will see on the roof is snow. I like to think it will take the sun and a warm day to melt it off.

Apr 162016

So I went in to chat with our new Member of Parliament last month. March 3rd.

I won’t lie, it was because it was Federal budget time and I wanted to put retrofitting homes for energy efficiency in the back of his head. It’s one of those things, like funding the arts, that people say we can’t afford but which are actually a great return for the investment.

As you may know, we elected a new government last year. Justin Trudeau is our Prime Minister now and, surprise of surprises, our local Liberal candidate, Dan Ruimy, is part of Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal majority government in the House of Commons.

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I say it was a surprise because Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows (and formerly including Mission) has been a polarized Reform/Conservative vs. the NDP riding for a loooooong time. In 2015 I supported the very strong NDP candidate, Bob D’Eith, because I felt that if we sat back and pondered who to support, Stephen Harper would win.

Dan told me he doesn’t want to waste time. He wants to make a difference.

I made an appointment to see Dan in his brand new office before its official opening.  I told him about the Maple Ridge Net Zero Home Energy Retrofit Project now waiting on the shelf for someone to dust it off and set it going.

I told him about the Nelson BC Ecosave Energy Retrofits program.

I told him about Solar Colwood which released its final report last year.

And I told him about the Design Charrette we held in 2013 to move the Retrofit Project to the next step: a project manager and project design.CharretteGroup

Unfortunately, I have been too busy with our own retrofit and renovation of Hammond Forever House, which I hope will be the test case for the larger project, to have a clear proposal ready for Dan (and Justin, for that matter).

Among other things, we chatted about Dan’s apartment which he said is so badly insulated that there is no point wasting the energy to leave the heat on when he is not home. What a common problem! Tenants and homeowners alike suffer with high energy bills while the climate changes. Our best information estimates that Climate Change will cost Canada $5 billion per year by 2020 and there is very little being done to address the problem of inefficient existing buildings in a meaningful way.

The new Liberal Government, Dan said, is looking for innovative and unique programs they can support. Heritage, Energy, Climate Change, reducing home-heating costs for families–all these things are easy to support. Neither of us had a clear idea for the next steps in the Maple Ridge Retrofit program but Dan suggested we keep talking about it. Then he pointed to the large conference table in the next room and told me what it was for.

I left our meeting thinking it may be time to renew my conversation about the community project with our excellent City Staff to see if they have some new ideas on the subject. After all, I’m not the only one around here with ideas. (I haven’t had time to make that call, yet.)

It seems that since that first meeting with Dan, he spoke to a few other people because last week Leanne and I both found ourselves in that next room sitting around that big table with a bunch of other like-minded people. Leanne was there representing Ridge Meadows Recycling and I was there representing, well, this blog I suppose. Others from local environmental organizations were there, too.

DSC03460Dan’s idea was to start some sort of ongoing advisory panel on the environment.

There was a kind of stunned optimism in the room as a result of being invited. Many in the room remarked how much of a change the approach was to the previous government. If you remember, I had some professional criticism for our previous MP.

I also remember appealing to our former Prime Minister to attend a climate meeting while he was in New York in 2014. No luck.

It struck me afterwards that many Canadians may prefer the government to make decisions on their behalf without them having to lift a finger. I can understand that and it would be fine if our MPs were infallible gods and/or if everyone agreed with them. Other people, like myself, believe that building consensus is key and that means citizen engagement.

DSC03459Dan admits that he doesn’t know everything and is willing to collaborate and learn how he can help.

I think I can safely say that everyone in that room will be there next month with bells on. We have a lot of catching up to do!

Feb 152016

Question: What do you do for your Valentine when she is sick in bed and you can’t spend any money because you are sinking all of your money into a renovation?

Answer: romantic graffiti!


The concrete basement walls are going to be covered with 2″ of EPS styrofoam then a 2X4 stud wall and then drywall. That’s just for insulation.

I realized that if we “decorated” them, nobody would see it unless they stripped all of that off. Is anyone going to do that? Probably not.

Probably not ever.

So I took the kids over and let Leanne sleep while we created this little video for her. If you remember how we wrote all over our old bathroom walls, you’ll see a pattern developing here.

Happy Valentine’s Day Leanne!

Soon after we met in 1996 Leanne moved with me to Japan where we taught English in a small town in Gifu Prefecture called Ibigawa. My students in the local High School Continue reading »

Oct 182015

My Dad, at 83, has a sharp, clear independent mind. Growing up I was at odds with him sometimes, but I could never write off what he had to say, even as a teenager, because he would surprise me with his unique way of putting things.

Last week he shared a letter he had written “to some MPs” about Monday’s election. This time what surprised me was his clear analysis of the risks of increasing oil tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet. “Has he become a Green Party supporter, or has hell frozen and he is willing to back the NDP?” I thought. I needn’t have worried. What remains consistent with my Dad is what one might call realism on a good day or pessimism on a bad day.

I asked him if I could share his letter on this blog and, surprising me again, he said:

Yes, why not. I sent it to 5 MPs and 2 MLAs. I don’t expect it to change anything but the hazard is so obvious and the promises that no one will never again do something stupid like running into an island so empty that one has to say something.

So here it is!

Continue reading »

Oct 072015

Have you seen The Martian yet?

I don’t want to spoil it for you but it’s about how smart people are sexy and how NASA can do amazing things with math like land people on Mars and get them off again.

Wait, it’s just a movie. They can’t do that stuff, yet.

Well,they can land a robot on Mars. We know because, you know, they did that.

Everybody loves that NASA and that amazing stuff they do. “Yay NASA! Someday I hope my kid will be an astronaut and yadda yadda…”

So why is it that when NASA says that the earth’s average temperature is increasing because we have been burning so much fossil fuel and this is causing major changes in the climate, some of us, including my own government, seem to think there is some wiggle room there.

“The science isn’t in yet.”

Someone on a political Facebook group I’m a part of wrote, “if the evidence were overwhelming I would accept it.” Of course, I took that as a challenge.

Continue reading »