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.

Jul 152016

To my own amazement, I am now the owner of a 1996 Ford Ranger pick-up truck.

DSC04160I thought my next car would be electric!

It seems that new auto sales are stronger than ever even in the face of the fact that the second largest contributor to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is the internal combustion engine used for transportation. The first is the energy sector.

We ask consumers to reduce their carbon footprint, but it is difficult for most of us, squeezed as we are, to resist the short-term temptation of a low-priced car or truck with a financing package featuring extremely low monthly payments we can absorb into our monthly expenses and forget about.

The fact that the sellers of these vehicles are making their money from financing interest and the inevitable maintenance that goes with gasoline vehicles, is still not causing a much of a dent in our consumer mindset. The sticker-shock of higher-priced electric vehicles has a strong effect even though their minimal fuel costs and minimal maintenance costs result in a much cheaper vehicle over the years.

Combine the cost-effectiveness of electrics with what you can do to integrate your electric car into the electrical system of your home, and the arguments for eliminating fossil-fuel powered vehicles from your life become even stronger.

However, the fact remains it is a mental shift that most of us just don’t have time for. My wife and I talk about not having the “brain space” to focus on making changes to our routines, even if it benefits us. We know we “should” do something, but we’re having enough trouble just getting through the days.

All this to say that saving the world is a long-term project and feeling guilty about day-to-day choices we make is not particularly helpful. You’re reading this blog right now and thinking about this stuff, and that might be enough environmental work for today. Good job!

So how did I end up with a truck?

The best way possible.

Friends we met via our kids moved to Alberta last week and needed to find a home for their truck. They had asked around, but none of the offers to purchase it had come through, so they handed it off to me.DSC04161

It’s a 1996 Ford Ranger. It has a four-cylinder engine so it doesn’t guzzle gas as much as a larger truck and it runs just fine. Three months of insurance cost me $413 and when I put $20 of gas into it, the gas gauge needle actually moved significantly, which is a good sign. (In our Prius, $20 is at least half a tank.)

On the down side, the car had been broken into before our friends bought it for $750 so the doors don’t lock anymore. This will mean we keep nothing in the cab and use a club. We’re used to that. We used to own a VW Rabbit Convertible with a cloth roof and we did the same thing with that car to stop people from slashing open the roof.

The nice thing is that I’m going to be able to pick up construction supplies much more easily now. I have been relying on contractors, family members and neighbours to deliver stuff or lend me trucks until now. That takes a level of planning which is a little taxing.

Environmentally speaking, keeping an older vehicle on the road is a good thing. Throwing away a vehicle and buying a new one is like knocking down a house to build a new one–an incredible waste.

Here’s hoping that in three months I can find a buyer who will fix this little beauty up and keep it running for a long time to come!

Feb 202016

One of the most stressful phases of the renovation and retrofit of Hammond Forever House is behind us.

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We have a roof thanks to Maple Ridge Roofing who did a great job.

The water that was dripping through the house from the leaky temporary covering has left mold visible on the basement ceiling in several places and damage to the original ceiling wallpaper in the living room and dining room. As the house dries out, we only hope more damage does not reveal itself.

The interior will not dry completely until the exterior is completely sealed, but at least Continue reading »

Jan 042016

[UPDATE MARCH 2016: since this post was written, Leanne and I have entered into a contract dispute with Ridgewater Homes. For more details, click here.]

Happy New Year Team!

(Too busy e-mailing to update your blog? Try doing both at once!

I have been working hard on the day-to-day discussions, decisions and actual work of our renovation and retrofit so I haven’t had time to update this blog with all the exciting things going on. Yesterday I asked myself if I can combine these things and post an update that I would normally send by email to the team. Let’s see if it works! This way the team gets more photos and you get more nitty-gritty details.)

Here is an update to get everyone on the same page. I will be teaching two classes (from 9-5) this week from Monday to Thursday, January 4-7, so I will not be on hand on site as much as usual. I’ll be around Friday, though.

To remind you of who everyone is, here is a list:

Contractor–Ridgewater Homes
Daryl, President
Amber, Project Manager
Steve, Site Supervisor

Heritage Professional–Donald Luxton and Associates

Dave, my father-in-law, retired electrician and DIY home-builder
Brian, electrician, Big Mountain Electric
Leanne, my wife and electrician-in-training

Plumbing–Meadowridge Plumbing and Gas
Richard, owner

Chimney and Fireplace
Ron, the neighbour-who-knows-about-masonry

Lighthouse/UBC/BCIT case study
Veronica, Project Lead from Lighthouse Sustainable Building

General update:


The house is more supported than it has been in its entire 92 year history. It is sitting on its new foundation walls, two interior temporary walls and its 3 new permanent steel beams as well as its new steel posts.

If you remember what the front steps looked like, you’ll notice that the ground level has risen a little, so we’ll have to adjust it if we want to replicate the front porch as it was. However, Steve, I don’t think anyone would object if we reduced the number of front steps by one. Would you agree, Don?


This room, which used to be an unheated crawl space under the porch, will now be a root cellar!

The front porch has its joists but we are waiting for clarification on what surface we should put on it assuming we use spray foam insulation on the ceiling of the space below.

Thank you, Steve for suggesting we have the steel beams pre-painted. Thank you also for making them short enough to fit 2″ of foam insulation between the end of the beams and the exterior wall to reduce thermal bridging.


One steel post is missing because I understand its length is being adjusted. Final adjustments to the support system have not been made yet.



The basement ceiling joists around the hole where the central chimney was

I would still appreciate some reinforcement of the joists around the interior stairwell and central chimney hole, especially if it is easier to do now than later.

Sidenote: Leanne and I were grateful that the house was supported better than it has ever been (new foundation, 2 temporary walls plus three new steel beams) by the time the earthquake shook Hammond last week! Whew!


I have removed and preserved some siding from the bathroom walls which will be dismantled. DSC02744The bathroom window will be reused but I did not have time to remove it yet.

I planned to remove the rest of the siding around the window when I could determine exactly where the new exterior wall will attach between the pantry window and the existing bathroom window. I want to make a clean cut up the wall to avoid having to replace any siding on the section of wall that will be under the new porch.

The bathroom has now been gutted in preparation for its rebuild. That involved a lot of insulation falling out of the attic space above the ceiling. You may find some Roxul insulation and also original black rock wool insulation. The latter may look like mold or something worse, but it is harmless. Although it is a dusty space, I don’t believe there are any health concerns.

The East side of the upper floor has also been partially gutted in preparation for the dormer. I am still planning to strip the entire upper floor to the roof joists so that we can thicken the roof joist space and fill it with spray foam.



I have stacked leftover lumber, organized by type and length, in an easily accessible spot to the north of the house. Please use it (even if it’s a little dirty)! I know that nice clean lumber is relatively cheap, but we would like to avoid wasting resources.


Leanne and I are looking forward to watching the addition and dormer being framed.

Construction waste:

I don’t want to slow the work down by demanding special care be taken to reuse and recycle. However, if the crew can simply create piles of similar material, I can take care of it later.

In addition to the containers I left for metal scrap, plastic, organics, paper/cardboard, etc., piles would be useful in the following categories:

  1. reuseable constuction wood (2X4, 2X6 etc.) with no nails or screws
  2. reuseable constuction wood (2X4, 2X6 etc.) containing nails or screws (I can remove them)
  3. firewood (wood is clean, contains nails and pieces are too small or damaged to reuse)
  4. junk wood to landfill (with paint or spay foam stuck to it so it can’t be burned)

There is a pile of waste wood on the North side of the house which I didn’t get time to remove. It is a mix of 1 and 2 above.


The future legal basement suite plumbing and sump have been roughed in by Meadowridge. Thanks guys!
The Maple Ridge plumbing inspector was able to fit in an inspection just before the Christmas break and gave the work a partial pass. I don’t know whether that means we can now back fill over the pipes or not. Richard?



New Connection

Dave, Brian and I are in the process of getting approval from BC Hydro for a new underground 200amp service to the house. (The City of Maple Ridge Engineering Dept. is requiring all services to be underground as part of our Heritage Revitalization Agreement and re-zoning). Hydro has said that if we get the site plan and paperwork they require in to them before January 12th, they estimate their design team will have a design ready by March 7th, at which point we can schedule the connection to be made.

I am not alone in thinking that this lengthy process suggests that Hydro believes this is a larger project than a simple residential connection. It is not the first time that Leanne and I have felt the powers-that-be are treating us like a development corporation. This week will be our first opportunity to find out if there has been a misunderstanding. I hope Brian or Dave can find time to discuss this with BC Hydro.

Construction electrical service

The Ridgewater crew has been using the outside outlets on the Little Yellow House for power. These outlets are on 15amp breakers which has resulted in breakers tripping and interrupted work. The electrical team is working on a solution.

In the meantime, I have provided two extension cords, one red, one green, running out the window of the Little Yellow House (in such a way that the window is still secure) which are plugged into the 20amp outlets in the kitchen. With the two exterior outlets, still available, and another outlet available from the Yellow House garage, I hope that will be enough power for now. We have a few more cords you are welcome to use.

Steve, please let me know if this solution works, or whether we need to try something else. Thanks.


Apologies, Steve, for not doing my homework. I intended to finish back-filling the basement stairwell hole, but the ground was frozen by the time I got around to doing it after Christmas. You can still leave it to us. Let me know if that hole is holding up the work and we’ll put it at the top of our list. Otherwise, I’ll wait for a warmer stretch of weather.

Basement slab preparation:

Once the temporary walls are removed we can start to work toward pouring the basement floor slab. Much of this work can be left to us (Leanne, Dave and I under Steve and Amber’s direction) while the Ridgewater crew works on framing in the addition and dormer. These are the steps as I understand them:

  1. fill in dips left by Nickel Bros’ cribbing (remove that remaining cribbing block on the North side of the basement first)
    1. fill the root cellar with crushed rock only, leaving 4″ for concrete
    2. level the rest of the basement with crushed rock and sand (if it can be compacted enough–please advise), leaving room for 3″ of rigid foam and 4″ of concrete
  2. smooth off any concrete lumps on the forms so that there is enough room for the foam and the concrete
  3. compact the fill as much as possible to avoid settling of the ground under the slab
  4. laying the 3″ of Terrafoam rigid insulation
  5. adding Terrafoam to the perimeter walls up to the level of the slab (4″) and also up the sides of all post and interior wall footings to completely separate the basement slab from the foundation walls
  6. surrounding all roughed in plumbing coming up through the floor with Terrafoam
  7. laying a plastic vapour barrier on top of the foam and part way up the walls and posts
  8. laying wire mesh on top of the vapour barrier and foam to stabilize the concrete and tie the radiant heating pipes to
  9. mapping out and tying the radiant heating pipes to the wire mesh in lengths of 250 feet under the direction of Richard and Meadowridge plumbing.
  10. Pour the concrete!


Ed from Haney Builders should have ordered all the new triple-paned fiberglass windows. However, there was one adjustment we made before the holidays which may mean the order has not gone to Milgard Windows yet. I’ll let you know when we can expect them.

I understand that the key to energy efficiency with windows is the way they are installed, so I want to make sure we use best practices here (whether it is us or Ridgewater who ends up installing them).

Spray Foam Insulation Confusion:

I am hearing different opinions about what is needed for using spray foam insulation in attic spaces. Once we spray, it is very difficult to correct any mistakes, so we have to get this right.

The question is, do we need to ventilate the roof surface (mostly to extend the life of the roofing material) or not?

Right now, the 2X6 roof joists of the main part of the house are strapped with 1X4 boards (3/4″ thick) and sheathed with 1/2″ plywood. The shed addition roof (which will be replaced) has 2X4 joists sheathed with plywood.

I am reading information online which says that if spray foam is installed correctly, it should allow for no air gap between the underside of the roof and the foam and also allow no moisture to escape into that space from inside the house.

The concern seems to be that asphalt shingles get hotter in the sun if there is no airspace beneath them, which reduces their life span. However, there is research which states that the colour of the shingles and other factors has more impact on their temperature than ventilation does.

I have asked Maple Ridge’s Head of Building Inspection about whether the BC Building code has anything to say about this, but I’m looking for the best information available on this question before we proceed. Veronica?

We also need to know if this question affects what we can do with the front and back porch surfaces. Both have living space beneath them. I would like to clear this question up quickly so we can rebuild the front porch.

The Chimney

Finally, a big shout out to our amazing neighbour, Ron, who volunteered his time on the day the house was lowered on to its new foundation and took care of our chimney and fireplace with such skill! Ron has now finished the brickwork to connect the chimney to its new foundation. He says he will work on repairing any damage to the fireplace in his free time in the new year.

When you lift a house with a chimney for any reason, standard practice is to remove the chimney and that means removing the fireplace, too. Without Ron’s expert opinion and confidence that the fireplace could be saved, we would have lost a key heritage feature of the house. Once you remove a brick chimney, the BC Building Code will not let you build a new one.

Thank you, Ron!

And thank you to everyone who has helped us so far in our audacious home energy retrofit project.

That concludes your 2016 update! As you can guess, there is a lot more to most of these items but they will have to wait until more pressing matters are dealt with.

Leanne and I are looking forward to this next stage of the project, together with all the help and support from everyone on the team and the community at large.

Joyously looking to the future, we wish you all a happy and fulfilling 2016!


Sep 242015

[UPDATE MARCH 2016: since this post was written, Leanne and I have entered into a contract dispute with Ridgewater Homes. For more details, click here.]

We can’t do this alone.

There has to be people who know how to take an existing home and make it energy efficient without tearing it down and wasting all that energy and resources. It’s not rocket science.

With the climate changing and everyone aware of why and even what we have to do about it, why do most contractors still stare at you blankly when you say you want to insulate beyond what is required by the building code?

These are questions I asked myself when we started to plan the renovation and retrofit of our house.

I took this quote from DesmogCanada:

“Frankly, we need an army of carpenters, electricians and contractors going out to plug leaky buildings,” federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May said during the August 6 leaders debate. “Thirty per cent of carbon pollution comes from the energy we waste and the money we waste heating the outdoors in the winter and cooling it in the summer.”

and she is 100% right except that we needed it 30 years ago.

However, if you take a few years to work up to your renovation and you connect with people like Lorraine Gauthier of the Now House Project and Monte Paulsen of City Green Energy Solutions, you start to not only meet people who know how to do this, but a few who are willing to help you do it.

I told you about our relationship with the BCIT Building Sciences Centre of Excellence who put sensors in the house for a year to analyze the indoor air quality. One student wrote a report using three months of the data which you can read in a series of Hammond Forever House posts here.

I also told you about the design charrette we held in Maple Ridge to hash out a plan for a community home energy retrofit project (hey, if our government won’t do it, I guess we have to). With insufficient support, the project has been shelved pending the completion of our own retrofit which I hope will set an example.

2013 Now House

One of the participants at the charrette, Light House Sustainable Building Centre, has made it possible for more students to get involved in our humble little Forever House. These ones are 4th-year Environmental Science Students at the University of British Columbia who will put what they have been studying to practical use.

With UBC involved, BCIT has agreed to help with the post-retrofit air quality analysis so that students will be able to study the practical effect of the water and energy saving measures we are able to implement. I love this idea because, although the techniques are not new, we need more people out there who know them and we need to get the word out about what is possible for ordinary homes.

Continue reading »

Aug 112015

DSCN3146[UPDATE MARCH 2016: since this post was written, Leanne and I have entered into a contract dispute with Ridgewater Homes. For more details, click here.]

“What Nickel Brothers wants, Nickel Brothers gets.” That’s how Chuck, our Construction Manager from Ridgewater Homes explained it to one of his crew the other day.

Nickel Brothers are in charge of lifting our house, keeping it in the air for the thirty days or so it will take us to pour a new foundation and let it dry, and then putting it back down.

They asked for six holes, six feet by six feet, to be dug in the basement where their cribbing, the blocks which will take the weight of the house, will go. That means breaking the concrete floor and digging.

While we were discussing this with Adam from Nickel Bros. Chuck looked over at me and asked if the digging was something I would like to do, or should Ridgewater provide a crew to do it. Chuck knows that we are trying to do as much of the work ourselves to save money.

I looked at Dave, my father-in-law who has a wealth of experience, and asked, “ever used a jack hammer before?” He laughed and said, “let them do it”.

Chuck said, “Okay, I’ll find someone to get on the jolly jumper.”

Here is what that looked like:

If you’re wondering why we broke up the basement stairs, it was purely to make it possible to get a wheel-barrow loaded with broken concrete out of the basement. The stairs will be gone soon, anyway.

A word to the wise about disposing of concrete. When you contract with a disposal company such as Disposal King who Chuck called in, you are asking them to drop off a rock bin, take it away when it is full, and dispose of it at a licensed disposal facility.

This means you pay a tipping fee of $250 for 4 yards (whatever a yard is).

Need some concrete fill? Too bad!

Need some concrete fill? Too bad!

The system and the tipping fee is no problem unless you wanted to save money by giving the load to a friend or neighour. Disposal does not mean hauling. Once the bin is full, you have no choice but to pay for the company to dispose of it.

I’m going to find out if we can hire a hauling company for the rest of the basement concrete. There is going to be a lot. I don’t know if I can find anyone who wants that much concrete fill, but if I can make it work, we’ll save a tonne–literally!

Returning to the Jolly Jumper. Ridgewater rented the jack hammer by the day and obviously they wanted to make good use of it. The last hole to be dug will be the one right by the basement door. That is going to mean the wall between the hallway and the old pump room would have to go.

Mark, who was head of the crew, said afterwards the concrete in that wall was as tough as he has ever encountered. They worked on it for an hour or two.

Poor guys. There but for the grace of Dave, go I.

Aug 062015

imageIf you read my original post about solar cones AKA green cones AKA food digesters, then you know that these things are a great way to eliminate your non-compostable green waste. In Maple Ridge where our taxes don’t fund the garbage hauling industry, solar cones can save you hundreds of dollars per year.

If you didn’t run out and buy one after reading the above-mentioned post, I’m guessing it may have been the gross-out factor that made you hesitate. The idea of letting your food sit and be digested in a receptacle near your house is icky. I get it.

Well, today I’m going to gross you out even more.

First, however, I have to say that, to me, keeping your food waste hanging around your house for as long as a week (or two?) while waiting for a company to come and take it away seems more disgusting (and smelly) than dropping it in a solar cone as soon as you clear the table. See what I mean?

Anyway, here it is. The worst thing you may ever have to do with your solar cone.

Move it.

In my previous post I described how a solar cone can fill up if you’re not paying attention and that my solution initially was to empty it and how I learned that a better solution is to add Rot-it and be patient. I didn’t have photos of what moving a solar cone looks like back then.

Now I do.

Need some concrete fill? Too bad!

A narrow squeeze for a big truck

We are clearing a path for some very big trucks to enter our yard and dig us a new foundation. Unfortunately our solar cone is in the way. There is nothing for it, it had to move.

Step 1: dig about two-thirds around the cone until it comes loose. Do not breathe deeply, it stinks.

Step 2a: if you wish to increase your solar cone’s capacity (and you are not actively puking from the smell) tip it on its side and shake the contents into the now-empty hole.

Step 2b: remember that this whole step 2 business is optional.

Even the cone itself looks like it is puking!

Even the cone itself looks like it is puking!

Step 2c: notwithstanding step 2b, notice that the contents are clogging the hole and require some help to exit the cone. Find a hand trowel or fork. Get in there and muck it out, soldier!

Step 2d: fill in the hole and make sure the contents of the solar cone are good and buried (they shouldn’t attract animals anyway since they have decomposed or are decomposing but it’s better to be safe)

Step 3: whether or not you skipped step 2, admire your solar cone at its full glory.

Step 4: find suitable spot with good drainage and lots of sun and dig another hole.

In the hole you can see the old sewer pipe from the yellow house

In the hole you can see the old sewer pipe from the yellow house

Step 5a: put the solar cone in the hole and check that the lip is just below ground level.

Step 5b: if you skipped step 2, note how much easier step 5 would be if you had just powered through your revulsion and emptied the thing

Step 5c: if you did not skip step 2, give yourself a pat on the back for fighting through the gross-out factor, noting how much lighter and less disgusting handling the cone is because of your earlier sacrifice

Step 6: dig a little deeper to add a little room for gravel under the cone to improve drainage (optional depending on your soil)image

Step 7: add a little compost to the hole to introduce microbes and kick-start the digestion process

Step 8: insert the cone, check its height and fill in the hole.

Have you ever seen anything more beautiful?

Have you ever seen anything more beautiful?

There it is. If you made it through this post, you can make it through anything a food digester can throw at you.

The moral of this story is: choose a spot for your solar cone carefully so you will never have to move it!

Jul 282015
What did the eco-warrior do when the huge garbage bin arrived?

What did the eco-warrior do when the huge garbage bin arrived?

[UPDATE MARCH 2016: since this post was written, Leanne and I have entered into a contract dispute with Ridgewater Homes. For more details, click here.]

Last Sunday we had a work party. Our dear friends Jeff and Carole came out and put in some serious hours. Our neighbours came to visit and Ron helped out again along with my in-laws.

Shingles were on the menu. Our contractor, Ridgewater, brought in a skiff, assuming we would have a lot of garbage from clearing out the basement, taking off the shingles, etc. from the lower portion of the house. I took that as a challenge to put as little as possible in the thing.

We decided we couldn’t recycle, reuse or burn the shingles because they likely have lead paint on them under a few layers. Chuck from Ridgewater said he was going to have the garbage bin replaced with one just for rock and concrete on Monday. That lit a fire under our butts to get all the shingles off and into the skiff. It was a good thing Monday turned to Tuesday and finally Wednesday before we said goodbye to our giant garbage bin because it took some time getting those shingles off.

For a while there I was wondering what we could put in the bin. We’ll have some drywall soon. We have some chunks of mortar from taking the chimneys apart. Can that stuff go in? Apparently, however, drywall is more expensive to dump (there is a different rate for drywall) and you pay by the tonne at the landfill so heavy stuff like rock (and mortar) is a bad idea–that’s what a rock bin is for.

So what does go in at a typical construction site? My guess is wood. We tossed in shingles because of the lead paint and the tar paper under them, too, but there is also a lot of wood from deconstructing the walls that is difficult to reuse and has a lot of nails in it. The time it takes to cut it for burning, remove the nails to reuse it, or simply find a place to store it makes it cheaper to toss it in the landfill.

It’s going to take some care and hard work from Leanne and I if we’re going to buck the trend, but we’re doing ok so far.

Jeff and I started on the northeast corner where the septic tank still waits for me to empty it. Here is a slideshow of how that went:

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Then we moved on to the left side of the front. The plan is to completely remove the porch and support the roof of the porch by the pillars. Sounds dicey…

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For a closer look…

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There’s a lot less to those columns than meets the eye!

By this time we were roasting in the sun so we took a break in the coolness of the basement…and removed the concrete sink!

It was the next day that I returned to stripping shingles. It was a cooler day so I started on the south side where all the wires come into the house: BC Hydro, Shaw and Telus.

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I discovered various nooks and holes just under the surface that make me feel glad we are re-building these walls and insulating them properly. We think the hole below, roughly filled with a piece of styrofoam was where the old electric meter came through the wall. You can see how resourceful people in general, but Carl Whitehead in particular, were; the sides of the hole are made from an apple box.

Later, our remaining cat (“the cat who lived”), Odette, couldn’t resist exploring the hole. Leanne had to rescue her since she couldn’t get out but not before taking a photo or two.

Then I moved on to the front right side. You’ll tell me if these slideshows aren’t working for you, won’t you?

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DSCN3110I had to take a break from the front of the house when a hornet got into my glove and stung my hand. I hate those things, they are such jerks! Apparently I had disturbed the nest at the bottom of the banister which had never bothered anyone before. There had been several wasp nests around the porch, but they were all dead. Two years ago I killed the largest one which was revealed in all its dead glory when we stripped the right pillar. It was huge, take a look!

One nest high, one nest low

Old dead yellow-jacket nest

While I waited for dusk so I could kill the new hornet’s nest, I finished up on the southeast corner. This section is under the walled-in back porch. There is a crawl space underneath and our neighbour Brad did a great job a few years ago of pouring a foundation wall to support it. This is also the corner where I went berserk on the carpenter ants and hacked apart a beam that was riddled with them. I’ll have to tell you about that sometime.

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You can see the sawdust left behind by the nest-building carpenter ants and the beam Dave-the-father-in-law and I had to reinforce. It will feel good to get all of that replaced!

When I returned to the hornet’s nest, I thought it would be exciting to photograph my revenge. Instead, I got this sequence.

Yawn! I guess that’s what you want when foaming a nest: no excitement, just hornet death. The foam worked as advertised. Fantastic. I waited until the next morning to finish removing the shingles and get a look at the nest.

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The banisters had obviously been replaced about 20 years ago because the shingles were nailed to sheathing of particle board which was disintegrating. Compare that to the ship-lap boards in the rest of the walls which has lasted almost 100 years!

With all the shingles removed and in the bin, I could sleep easy. The next morning, Wednesday, the truck showed up bright and early and removed it. I watched it sleepily from the window of the Little Yellow House.DSCN3133
Suddenly I realized I had not taken a photo of the final result! How would anyone reading the Hammond Forever House story believe that we hadn’t filled the thing with wood and household garbage! Fortunately, the driver put it down in the street so he could move the rock bin into the yard.

I threw some clothes on, opened the skiff and took this shot. See? Nothing but shingles and tar paper (ok and a couple of garbage bags and a piece of wallboard that has rat pee on it–you gotta forgive me for that one it was disgusting!).

Inside the skiff.

Inside the skiff.

Jul 212015

Here we are starting our renovation at last in the middle of a heat wave. A stage three water advisory is in effect, British Columbia’s forests are burning like never before and plants and trees that flourish in our temperate rainforest climate are dying.

As far as our renovation goes, the dry weather is a big help. We can stack materials we remove from the house without worrying about it getting wet before tomorrow, we can remove chimneys without getting water in the house, and the old septic tank is getting dryer and dryer. That will make it much easier to dig all the dirt out of it before the excavator removes it.

In fact with the plants in pots (we are removing them from around the house before the foundation gets dug up) and desperate for water, I thought it a good idea to put them in the septic tank and see if they can help us remove some of the water in there by drinking it. They seem to love it.

Septic planter!

Septic planter!

How appropriate that the extreme weather we are experiencing right now because of climate change is helping us in our work and one of the central goals of our renovation is to reduce our impact on climate change. Ironic or just interesting?

Meanwhile, the emptying of the basement has ramped into high gear. One of the challenges I wanted to tackle when we had some neighbours over on Sunday to help was the concrete laundry sink in the basement.

Concrete sink!

Concrete sink!

It’s big and heavy and sits on two pillars with no other adhesive than its sheer weight. Two poured concrete blocks raise it high so that the water will drain, but a wooden platform was built to stand on (it’s gone now).

We’d like to use the sink again and one idea is to install it somewhere outside. It’s certainly not going to rust!

To move it we thought about ropes and pulleys and then decided on using two of the planks from Ron the neighbour who knows about chimneys’ scaffolding. The plan was not to break the sink and not to break any backs or toes.

Our friend Jeff was a big help

Our friend Jeff was a big help

At the bottom of the ramp we tipped it onto a flat dolley and then wheeled it up the planks.

Finally, VICTORY!
After the really heavy lifting was done, that was when Ron showed up. He silenced all critics pretty fast, however, with his help taking out the pedestals.

The last pedestal was kinda cemented to the wall and it kinda broke. Ron offered to fix it. That’s why you need to meet your neighbours, my friends. You never know if one of them is a brick and tile guy who can fix your grandmother-in-law’s laundry sink.

The space the sink left may not look like much to you, but that sink was there since the thirties!



Jul 022015

In Metro Vancouver you’re not allowed to dump organic material into the landfill anymore. The organics ban has been in place since January first, but as of July first, garbage trucks will get fined if they are caught. Happy Canada Day!

One answer to the organics question is a solar cone (or two)

One answer to the organics question is a solar cone (or two)

This news is good because, although you might expect an orange peel to quickly biodegrade in a landfill, we have discovered it will not. Apparently landfills are not compost bins. Composts rely on oxygen to do their work, but in a landfill there is no oxygen so that when that orange peel does biodegrade it produces methane, one of the worst greenhouse gases out there–23 times worse than carbon dioxide, for example.

The ban on organics means that if you pay for garbage pick up in your municipal taxes, your municipal service must provide you with an option to have your organic material picked up separately.

In Maple Ridge, the ban provides as opportunity not available anywhere else in Metro Vancouver: saving money.

We have a long history of recycling in our city and we never added garbage pick-up to our tax bill. If you want someone to pick up your garbage, you can hire a private company to do that and you can arrange for weekly, bi-weekly or monthly pick-ups and save money that way. You only pay for the service you use.

These private companies must adjust for the organics ban in the same way the other municipalities do. You can expect the rates to go up a little as they add an extra bin, new equipment, etc., but the tipping fees for organic material are much lower than at the landfill, so it shouldn’t go up too much. If it does, you can comparison shop and maybe find a better deal (but only in Maple Ridge).

Apartments and townhouses have private pick up no matter where you live in the region.

Okay, so composting good, landfilling bad. We’re being forced to change, but it’s for the best. Got it.

Everywhere except Maple Ridge, this means higher costs. Here, however, if you take organics out of your trash yourself, you can save a lot of money.

How? Well, we haven’t paid for garbage service in our taxes so we could just…not.

Take out the organics and you are left with trash that does not smell or attract animals. That means it can wait a month to be picked up and you can change the contract with your garbage hauler to once a month. Better yet, you can hold on to that trash for longer and take it to the transfer station yourself, getting rid of your garbage service altogether!

Now, all you have to do is deal with your organics yourself. But how, James, how?

Well, composting is a lot easier than you think. All you need is a composter and a little outdoor space. You can put a lot more stuff in the compost than you think, too. There are tips and tricks to improve the quality and efficiency of your compost and make it almost odourless, but to be honest, we just toss stuff in ours and let it do its thing.

However, you can’t put everything organic in a compost bin. In general, anything that is going to attract animals–bread, oil, meat, fish–shouldn’t go in. Cat litter, even if it is compostable, shouldn’t go in because of parasites you don’t want ending up in your garden.

So what about that stuff?

One answer to the organics question is a solar cone (or two)

Choose a nice sunny spot

Let me take you into the world of food digesters. The one we have is called a Solar Cone or a Green Cone. They are available here for about $140. This is what it looks like in our garden:

Unlike a composter, a solar cone has no air holes. The visible part catches the sun and heats up the material inside, making it easy for microbes to do their magic. Then worms and insects eat the microbes and your leftover meatloaf disappears into the surrounding soil.Solar cone

Underneath, attached to the cone is a basket that sits in a hole in the earth. You want the earth to have good drainage and adding a little compost at the bottom to introduce some microorganisms and get things going is a good idea, too.

I think of what we used to do with chicken bones–dig a hole and bury them in the back yard–it’s the same idea. The solar cone is a resealable hole in the ground with the added element of heat from the sun. There is no smell to attract animals because the only holes are underground.

You shouldn't see a lot of stuff near the top of your cone--it is pretty deep.

You shouldn’t see a lot of stuff near the top of your cone–it is pretty deep.

Looking straight down, you might see something like this. Does it smell? Only when you open the lid!
Someone put a paper plate or two in there at one of our backyard parties. They will break down, but it may take a while. We put as little as possible in the solar cone, because we don’t want to fill it up. The compost is still the better option for fruit, vegetables, and even bits of paper. If I have a bunch of paper plates leftover from a party, I will probably recycle them, but I could compost them, too.

To sum up, for our family of four, two compost bins and a solar cone is all we need to keep all stinky organics out of our trash. Since we moved here in 2007 we have not hired a garbage hauler and we have made fewer and fewer trips to the transfer station with our own waste.

The big changes that made that possible were getting the kids out of diapers (switching to cloth diapers would also work) and finding a compostable cat litter that can go into the solar cone. Since then, we’ve been golden. Even the ants love it and have built a nest in the pile of weeds Leanne stacked next to the cone.

Ants running up the cone.

Ants running up the cone.

However, I’m not going to tell you the transition is all sunshine and roses. There is a dark side to the solar cone phenomena and, for us, it involved that cat litter I mentioned.

When you read the manual of many products you may have noticed they exaggerate what the product can do. Cars are always less fuel efficient than the sticker says, and your solar cone can’t handle as much as its pamphlet says. That may be because it was tested in a warmer climate or…who cares! For example, Leanne’s brother used his solar cone as a handy place to put dog poop from their yard. In theory, that should have been fine, but their two dogs eventually filled that solar cone with poop. Not good!

I felt guilty because I could have warned them. We filled ours the first time, too. In our case, I think the compostable cat litter clogged the gaps in the basket and the microbes couldn’t get in. Or maybe the microbes just got sick of eating cat litter, “More leftover food, please!”

Whatever the reason, the cone filled up so we couldn’t add anything else. I didn’t know what to do, so I dug two new holes, one as a new location for the solar cone (where it sits today, two years later) and the other to bury the excess. It seemed logical at the time, but it was a pretty disgusting operation. Leanne and I were shaking the thing upside down as partially digested clumps of the worst kitchen and cat waste fell into its new grave. It didn’t come out very easily, so we had to use a spade and dig it out. Happy memories!

Remember, we went through this ordeal more than two years ago and the solar cone doing digesting food just fine with no hint of losing its appetite.

For a special treat, I’m going to show you what a Solar Cone Failure looks like. We purchased a solar cone about two years ago for our tenants in the Little Yellow House to help them reduce their waste (what good landlords!). Predictably, during that time, they filled it up just like we did. Now I am faced with the same challenge and I’m determined not to deal with it the same way.

The Little Yellow House' solar cone is in the back next to the garage. It gets the afternoon sun.

The Little Yellow House’ solar cone is in the back next to the garage. It gets the afternoon sun.

How to check up on your solar cone.

1. Approach your solar cone. Speak soothingly.

"Nice solar cone. Atta girl..."

“Nice solar cone. Atta girl…”

2. Turn the latch and lift the lid.

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3. If you are sensitive to odours, well, there will be some. Peer inside. The organic matter should appear far below underground–oh dear mother of dog!

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Here we learned more about our tenants’ diets than we really wanted to know. The main problem, however, is simply that the cone is just too full.

Someone put a weed in there

Someone put some weeds in there. Wasn’t me!

"Rot it"

“Rot it”

I didn’t have a new solution except to wait until it goes down before this topic came up on the Hammond Neighours Facebook group and the Solar Cone guru from Ridge Meadows Recycling Society said, “If you add microbes such as rot it the solar cone will work a lot faster. The solar part helps the microbes to multiple faster. Yes, some like it hot.”

I ran out and bought some “Rot it” and dumped it on top like sugar on cereal.

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That was about a month ago and, you know, I think it has gone down, but it’s really hard to say. I am an impatient person sometimes and last week I wanted to hurry things along. I decided that if I filled the whole thing up with water it would help…somehow.

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Did that help? I don’t know yet. I’ll keep you posted.

The lesson here is to put everything you can into your compost and the rest in the solar cone. When you look in, it should look like a hole in the ground with some stuff in the bottom, not a cone with a pile of stuff in it. If you feel like you can easily reach in and touch the stuff, slow down and pull out the Rot It.

On a final note, I think I should address the issue of animals like rats, raccoons, bears and even cougars. Composters and solar cones can attract animals if they are not done right and I would leave it to the experts to give advice on this since we have never had a problem. That said, a compost bin filled with nothing but plant matter shouldn’t attract animals and the material should break down pretty fast, especially if you mix it like the experts say. Food Digesters contain meat, bones, etc. that will attract animals if they can smell it, but there are no air holes exposed so they shouldn’t. You want to keep the outside of the cone absolutely clean (maybe you could also mask the scent with an odourous plant? get your dog to mark its territory on it? do that yourself?) and make sure the food is digesting efficiently. Animals don’t like rotten food, do they?

If you compare this option to bins of delicious organic waste being left out at the curb for pick-up by either a private or a municipal tax-funded service, I think composters and food digesters are preferable. Both are a bridge too far for some people, but the fewer organics being left outside to attract animals, the better (In My Humble Opinion).