May 042017
 

I got pretty political during the Federal election in 2015 and I even wrote a post titled “Vote for Bob D’Eith“. Bob was the NDP candidate in my riding.

Well, it’s Provincial election time and I haven’t had the time to investigate the candidates too deeply, let alone create a well-researched blog post about it, but I do have something to say, for what it’s worth.This is my political T-shirt this time around. That’s Neil Degrasse Tyson saying, “What if I told you that it’s okay to change your opinion based on the latest evidence?”

With a T-shirt like that, you’d think I’d be voting Green, wouldn’t you? Sorry, but we still have a first-past-the-post system here, and in my riding of Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, the race is between the NDP and the BC Liberals and I have to vote against the Liberals IMHO. So do what you want, but this time around I’m voting for Lisa Beare of the NDP.

Do I have something personal against my BC Liberal candidate? No, but if we look at the responsibilities of the provincial government, especially healthcare, housing, education and transportation the evidence shows that those files, after 16 years of Liberal government, are not doing well.

What we typically hear from Liberal candidates is that they will create jobs, but I’m hearing from economists that provincial governments have very little control over the economy as a whole. The promises that Liquified Natural Gas will solve everything have been proven hollow, yet they continue making them.

Speaking of LNG, how does such intense support of the fossil fuel industry jibe with fighting Climate Change? I’ve written about the inconsistent support for reducing home energy use, even though I appreciate the new Oil to Heat-pump rebate, but how can a government simultaneously build a massive hydro-electric project like Site C, push LNG and still support homeowners reducing their GHG emissions?

They can’t and they don’t.

Priorities like LNG and Site C demand that the world use more natural gas and more electricity, not less. China should move (and is moving) directly from burning oil and coal to using renewable energy. British Columbians can and should reduce their energy use and switch to renewables, too.

UBC researchers have even found that halting construction of the Site C dam is our best economic move. “The report calls for the project to be suspended as it has become ‘uneconomic.'”

Without First-Past-The-Post, I would say let’s collect the best information from experts on how to solve the challenges before us–the housing crisis, the drug-overdose crisis, rising healthcare premiums, rising BC Hydro rates, climate change, etc.– and then vote for the party whose platform most closely matches what the experts recommend. It is my impression that the NDP and the Greens have platforms that are far more evidence-based so, in this system, it becomes a question of voting for the candidate who stands the best chance of defeating the BC Liberals, whose platform seems based on populism and trickle-down economics.

A case in point in Maple Ridge is the homelessness issue. It’s not unique to Maple Ridge, but two years ago there was a large “tent city” that sprang up in the downtown and wouldn’t go away. Many residents and local businesses naturally wanted to blame the people camping there because they are breaking the law, but homelessness and drug addiction are problems that can be traced to failings in Provincial policies related to healthcare, housing and education.

It’s a question of priorities. The good folks in the BC Liberal party like to campaign on the concept of balancing the annual Provincial government budget. Every election, if they can claim to have done that, many people will vote for them. I guess we think of our household budget and how hard it is to balance that, and surmise that if the government does it, they must be good fiscal managers. However, a province is not a household and the long-term economic and social well-being of the province cannot be managed in this way.

If you want to balance your short-term budget, you must ignore the experts that tell you to invest in education, affordable housing and healthcare. In the long-term, failing to invest will cost far far more. (To be fair to the BC Liberals, our political system is not set up to manage long-term challenges very well and it takes a lot of trust for someone to vote for a party who says they will run a deficit, even if its the right thing to do.)

So, when other parties promise to increase funding to deal with these problems, the BC Liberals fire back that what they are proposing is impossible “within the framework of a balanced budget.” This is a false standard. People are dying. People can’t afford to live in the Lower Mainland. People can’t afford childcare. Beyond the human cost, these crises have long-term disastrous effects on our economy.

The way the BC Liberals have chosen to “balance the budget” has been to cut (or fund inadequately): education (including childcare), healthcare and transportation. Ironically, the result is that ordinary households shoulder the burden of increased healthcare premiums, higher BC Hydro rates, traffic congestion, housing costs, childcare costs, etc. (And if you want to take the extra step of renovating and retrofitting an older home, forget it!)

Yes, while the Provincial government’s books look nice, most households are borrowing heavily. That’s not sustainable.

So what happened to the homeless camp? Did the provincial government step up? No.

As I recall, it was the Municipal government who arranged for a temporary shelter made sure the homeless camp was dismantled. A lot of people didn’t like that our property taxes helped fund a homeless shelter, and neither did I, but somebody had to do something.  Was it worth it? Apparently, yes. While deaths due to fentanyl overdoses are still rising in other municipalities, those in Maple Ridge have gone down. That’s a Municipal Government taking on a Provincial Government responsibility and showing them how it’s done.

Did Maple Ridge Council listen to the experts? Here’s a story on BC Housing presenting to Council last year: click here. BC Housing is the Crown Corporation that should be leading our representatives with fact-based advice. I wonder why their website, www.bchousing.org is showing “service unavailable” right now? Perhaps their fact-based advice is not something Christy Clark would like us to hear right now? Ah well, the information is still out there. UVic’s Centre for Addictions Research wrote a policy framework for the City of Victoria and it clears up a lot of questions.

That “temporary” shelter’s operation stretched out while the homeless hot potato bounced around. How much easier it is for a government if homeless people keep to themselves so we can ignore them, eh?

Nobody wants a homeless shelter in their neighbourhood, but experts will tell you it needs to be centrally located and accessible (among other things) or there is no point. The way it usually works is the city provides land and the Province builds the facility. The Quality Inn was identified as the next step–still temporary, but it would do until a permanent shelter was built with $15 million of Provincial funds. There was, of course, a protest and it seems that our two local BC Liberal MLAs intervened and asked the Housing Minister to cancel the Quality Inn plan. That extended the use of the first temporary shelter.

In this photo of a house I pass on the bus a lot, a BC Liberal supporter displays a “No Shelter” sign in their window. This slogan epitomizes to me short-sighted, mean-spirited NIMBYism.

Next, the City agreed to buy another plot of land for $1 million. In the face of more protests, our MLAs rejected that site, too. More recently, they held a public forum and appointed 7 residents to choose a location for the shelter. Any experts on that panel? Nope. The big thing we know about the panel’s recommendation so far is that it should be outside the city centre and shouldn’t be “low barrier”. Now, I’m sure these are well-meaning, concerned citizens, but how much do they know about where a permanent, multi-faceted housing and service center should be located other than, “not in my back yard”? If we put the facility out of sight (and out of mind) there is a good chance we will pay $15 million for a hardly-used facility while the crisis continues. That’s right, a shelter AND a homeless camp.

This is hardly evidence-based decision making. This is populism at its worst.

While this staggering inaction is continuing, the 2 year-old “temporary” shelter is being closed down and the situation is returning to where we were two years ago when the homeless camp sprang up. Is there another camp? Of course there is. Politically speaking, what our BC Liberal candidates must be hoping is that their supporters will take their anger and frustration out on the people creating the new camp and not on them.

It’s not a bad bet politically. I can imagine a crowd chanting, “Lock them up! Lock them up!” However, what we really need is leadership which listens to both the public and the experts but is not afraid to do what is right based on the best possible evidence. What we have now is MLAs who listen to the people who shout the loudest.

This is where my vote is going this time around.

One last note about the NDP. Someone I know says they will never vote for the NDP because of experiences they had with a labour union 30 years ago. Is that still a thing? I pointed out that Christy Clark was Education Minister 15 years ago when the BC Liberal government illegally altered the teachers’ contract and has been spending millions of Provincial government money fighting a case they must have know they would lose. “But it’s a different party now” came the response.

30 years vs. 15 years.

I don’t like party loyalty and you won’t get me to pledge my future support to any party, but if you hate the NDP on principle but are willing to accept that the BC Liberals can change their ways, you should read my T-shirt again.

What if I told you that it’s okay to change your opinion based on the newest evidence?

Nov 122016
 

Does Donald Trump’s victory mean the end of Climate Action in the United States?

Does it mean the end of the Paris Accord?

Does it really mean that half of the American people think that Climate Change is a hoax?

I don’t know about the first two, but I can’t believe people who voted for Trump don’t understand that Climate Change is a thing that we have to do something about.

Some of them, maybe…

I suspect they are mostly sick of having it pushed in their faces as if its their individual problem to solve.

Leanne and I can relate.

img_2865At this stage in our renovation and retrofit we’re just trying to finish enough of the house so that the building inspector will let us occupy it and we can get homeowner’s insurance again.

We’d like to spend Christmas in our house for a change instead of next door.

I haven’t been writing the blog because I simply don’t have energy at the end of the day. Weekdays I wake up early to make lunches for the kids, teach a class til noon, pick the kids up from school, and then work on the house til dinner time. Leanne works full-time and keeps up the electrical work with our electrician and her Dad. On weekends its all house all the time.

If this is what it takes for average folks to fight climate change, its no wonder we’re the exception, not the rule. My Eco-Warrior Badge is heavy.

Trump often railed against “the Mainstream Media”. Apparently, it struck a chord. Maybe when you are  struggling to eek out a living and the media reports that climate change is the single greatest threat we face, it’s a little hard to swallow.

The truth is that the media have been under-reporting climate change. There is no confusion among scientists, researchers, NASA, the UN and everyone else who has looked at it for ten minutes but nobody seems to have any solutions besides buy more eco-friendly stuff.

One problem is that most mainstream news is delivered in a context of commercialism. Every story is steeped in commercials for stuff we don’t need and the solution for climate change is presented in products. Buy a more expensive car to reduce emissions. Replace lightbulbs, shop local, buy organic. The market has consumed environmentalism as an opportunity to sell more stuff and that has made everybody cynical.

CBC radio had a story on today about some people who say that Canada should reconsider its commitment to introduce a carbon tax.

Wrong! A carbon tax is precisely the kind of tool we need!

The BC example has been good for the economy while reducing greenhouse gases. It provides incentives for communities to take climate action which takes the pressure off the individual consumer who is already wracked with guilt for buying a new…anything.

What will happen if the US stops taking action on climate change? Will Canada’s economy suffer?

Can I answer that question with a question? Can we stop thinking about the profits of large corporations as if their well-being is more important than anything else for a second?

The Natural Resources minister under Stephen Harper, Joe Oliver was on the radio programme I was listening to. He was so full of misinformation I was yelling at the radio.

One thing he said was that the best way to fight climate change is to push forward in science and technology so that cheaper and better ways to solve the problem come into the market.

Sound reasonable? It’s hogwash. What makes me angry is that he is in a position to know better. All the best information was at his fingertips, but he continues to soothe the shopping public with the message that we can keep doing what we’re doing until technology fixes everything.

One of the biggest lessons we have learned as we work to make our home as energy-efficient as possible is that technology is not the issue.

The technology and techniques have been around a long time and they are so simple that most people can understand easily:

  1. Insulate your house
  2. Insulate your house some more
  3. Insulate your house to the point where people look at what you’re doing and say, “holy crap that’s a lot of insulation”
  4. seal your house (doors, windows, chimneys, vents…)
  5. ventilate your house (you need fresh air now that you sealed it so well) with a Heat-Recovery Ventilator

Now that you have done all that you should not need very much heat in the winter nor cooling in the summer. Now you can decide how you want to provide that little bit of heating and cooling. (Hint: try not to use fossil fuels, including Natural Gas)

Here are a few fun options for heating your house without emitting GHGs: an air-source heat pump, a ground-source heat pump or a sun-pump.

SPOILER ALERT: Leanne and I have decided to deliver heat in the house with water pipes under the floors (and radiators on the top floor) and heat that water with electricity. We’re eschewing a heat pump for the time being but we may be able to partially heat the water with solar panels.

Yes, there are best-practices and some gadgets which help with all this, but the technology is available.

The problem is that not enough people are doing it.

Why are solar panels expensive?

Not enough people are buying them.

Why is it so hard to find a contractor who knows how to retrofit a house?

Not enough people are doing it.

Why does it take so long to retrofit a house?

Not enough people are doing it.

Does this cycle right back to blaming the public for not taking action? No. How can we expect the 99% of people who are not rich to spend a year and a lot of money retrofitting their house when the return on investment will be at least a decade away?

So, let’s not blame the media for ringing the climate bell without offering solutions. The solutions have to come from the people we elected to manage our future. Unfortunately, I don’t think Donald Trump has any solutions and I pray that Canada stays strong and doesn’t get sucked into the past.

Til next time,

James

 

Oct 012016
 

Ever since the spray foam was…installed? Is that the word? Sprayed? Anyway, ever since then, we have been working flat out roughing in electrical, building interior walls, building the basement stairs, putting a skin on the outside of the house and on and on.

imageIn the mornings I am back at ISSofBC teaching English to new immigrants and in the afternoons I pick up the kids and work on the house. I’m so busy I haven’t had time to share some significant events with you: the spray foam installation, the stairs, presenting at our MP’s townhall on Climate Change, to name just a few.

We’re finally nailing down the details of how we will heat our house–with water, as it turns out–and I remembered from my experience putting hydronic please pipes in the basement slab, that the City will probably want a heat-loss calculation done. That will show how much heat will be lost from each room of the house to ensure that the system we put in will meet that need.image

A Heath-loss calculation is not something I can do, so I asked Richard from Meadowridge Plumbing to get one done.

I think that these calculations are usually done assuming standard insulation values and I didn’t want that. We’re going far beyond the minimum in some places and if we use standard values it might mean installing a heating system far bigger than we need. For example, minimum wall insulation in Maple Ridge is only R20 and there will be R50 in some of our walls.

I thought it would help if I marked how much insulation will be in the walls and ceiling on a plan. Here’s what I came up with.

On the top floor, the spray foam gave a minimum of R28 to all the ceiling space. Wherever I can I will add more batt insulation below that. The number will vary based on the size of cavity–those attic spaces are triangular.

image

On the main floor the R-values vary in the roof spaces again and you can see that the front two rooms of the house will remain at R14 because we cannot add insulation in those walls due to heritage considerations.

image

Check out my previous videos to get an idea of what’s going on in the basement. It’s a little confusing from the drawing…

image

PS I always imagined this blog could be a play-by-play of our project as it proceeded but it looks like I will have to tell much of the story in detail later in retrospect. The story is complex and sometimes requires careful wording which takes time. Every moment I am not working on the house keeps my family out of our home for longer, so please accept my apologies if I paint an incomplete picture.

All will be revealed, I promise.

 

Aug 172016
 

The kids are at summer camp this week so I’m tiring myself out working on the house.

Soon these walls will be 6 inches thicker

Soon these walls will be 6 inches thicker

Tomorrow Element Spray Foam is coming to insulate the house! It has been a lot of work to get ready for this day and I haven’t had time to write.

That’s why I thought I would shoot a video for you.

In it I show you around the basement and explain where the spray foam will go and how we’re insulating the walls down there.

I also demonstrate how tired I am!

Please remember that I am not an expert so if you are interested in doing something like this, make sure you get professional advice before you proceed!

Aug 062016
 

I haven’t made a time-lapse movie in a while.

I made this one on Thursday afternoon working in the basement. It’s important because I can finally show you what is going into those walls.

In this first video you can see me struggle to get the top-plate in above the 2X4 stud wall I built and then start insulating behind it.

I framed the interior wall on May 10th.

I framed the interior wall on May 10th.

That was the first wall I’d ever built. Our Rescue Contractor (He Who Fixed The Structural Issues Left Us By Another Contractor) taught me to build the wall flat on the floor, then lift it into place and attach it to another 2X4 attached to the ceiling (called the top-plate). I did that three months ago and then got distracted by more urgent tasks.

In the meantime, the electrical team (Leanne, her Dad and Golden Ears Electric) went ahead and roughed-in the wiring. That made it more difficult to get the top-plate up there.

Notice the stripes of sealing foam I had already added around the edges of the exterior sheathing. That was a tip from Walter.

Here is a play-by-play:

-James slides top-plate into position and balances it on a board so he can screw it up unassisted (he is screwing stuff up unassisted a lot lately)

-James notices that a wire is on the wrong side so he pulls out the top-plate and tries again.

-James notices that another wire is on the wrong side so he pulls out the top-plate and tries again.

-James puts two screws through the top-plate into every ceiling joist, careful to avoid the wires running through the joists.

-James uses a flashlight to confirm that yes, he put a screw right through one of the wires running through a joist.

-James curses, marks the damaged wire, and considers how to apologize to Leanne who is going to have to replace that wire.

-James uses a hammer to bash the top and bottom of the stud wall into place under the top-plate because he didn’t leave that 1/4 inch space that contractors always say you should leave.

-James grabs some Roxul batts from the huge pile that was taken out of the attic and has been cluttering up the basement for months and starts fitting it into the spaces in the exterior 2X6 stud wall.

-the battery dies.

We’re finding it very helpful to have short-term goals to work toward. A big one lately is the spray foam. That’s the kind where the people in space-suits show up with a van and hoses. We’re planning to fill the rafters under the roof with about 5 inches of 2-pound spray-foam insulation and there are a number of things we have to do before that can happen.

In the basement, the spray foam is going only into the rim joists–sometimes called box joists–which are the spaces at the top of the basement walls between the ceiling joists. It’s very difficult to seal and insulate those spaces, so spray foam is a good idea in there.

The walls, however, are easy to insulate so you can save money on that expensive (and not so environmentally-friendly) spray foam.

Shout-out to Monte Paulsen again because I am finally following through with his advice for an inexpensive super-insulated wall.

The building code requires new construction to have 2X6 stud walls instead of 2X4s. That means a thicker wall that can be insulated better. Roxul batts that fit 2X6 walls have an insulation value of 22 (R22).

However, the building code is only a minimum standard. Once you have your 2X6 wall and the structural engineer has signed-off, you can make your walls thicker. It’s easy!

More than simply adding insulation, you can interrupt the heat transferred through the wood studs in your wall. This is called thermal bridging and I am obsessed with eliminating it.

With Monte’s idea of adding a 2-inch thick sheet of styrofoam between and then building another wall inside it, the heat can’t use the studs as a bridge. On the inside of the interior wall, a sheet of plastic keeps the moisture in the warm interior air from getting into your walls. Over that goes your gypsum drywall.

Since the Rescue Contractor and engineer have already made sure the house is structurally sound, I’m free to fumble around learning how to build walls without worry. (I like to think the Rescue Contractor is very busy and has faith in me and those are the reasons he didn’t return my texts when I wrote to ask if I can publish his company’s name.)

And space? Yes, we will lose about 6 inches of space around the exterior walls, but after a week we won’t notice anymore.

In the second time-lapse, taken after I plugged my phone in, the sun goes down as I gleefully insulate.

There are two parts to this wall: the concrete and above the concrete (AKA the pony wall).

The concrete has almost no insulation value (and, if you remember, I didn’t consult with Monte in time to know we could put Terrafoam rigid insulation under the footings–a nagging regret.) On the outside, under the ground level, is 2 inches of EPS styrofoam with an R-value of 8. Above the ground the concrete is bare until the shingles start.

The basement wall below the ground will be insulated like this:

2″ Exterior styrofoam (insulation value R8)
Concrete (R0)
2″ Interior styrofoam (R8)
Roxul batt in 2X4 stud wall (R14)
Total: R30

In the wall space above the concrete foundation–the pony wall–there are three types of insulation. There are Roxul batts in the 2X6 stud wall, Roxul boards and styrofoam. Roxul board is the product I told you about which fits perfectly in this unexpected inch-and-a-half space between the 2X6s and the styrofoam. The white EPS styrofoam is much, much cheaper than the higher density blue or pink rigid foam insulation you have seen around. It has a lower R-value, but is less carbon-intensive to produce. Finally, the interior stud wall will be insulated with more Roxul batts.

Looking at insulation value above ground we get this:
Roxul batt insulation in the 2X6 wall (R22)
Roxul board (R6)
Standard EPS white styrofoam (R8)
More Roxul batts (R14)

That makes for a total insulation value of R50 when the wall is finished. The shingles outside might even add a little more.

Incidentally, you can buy all these insulation types at your local building supply

Inside Plastifab's local facility. Photo taken without permission (I hope they don't mind!)

Inside Plastifab’s local facility.

store, but I went straight to Plastifab for the EPS styrofoam. I bought a lot of that stuff!

Ask the Rescue Contractor how much I have been looking forward to insulating those walls. Every time he added another 2X6 to a wall to make it stronger, I would whine about thermal bridging.

That’s why I pushed through dinner and, at 9pm, Leanne showed up with some sushi leftover from her dinner meeting.

I don’t know if you can tell in the video, but she forgave me for damaging her wire.

Afterthought: watching me cut up that styrofoam into little pieces to fit it between the studs, I think you can see how much more sense it would make to insulate the pony wall and add the styrofoam in big sheets before building the interior wall. The building inspector is going to let us do that with the rest of the walls instead of insisting all the electrical work is done before inspection. Thank heavens for flexible officials!

Aug 012016
 

When I met Leanne at UBC in 1996, I didn’t know I would end up marrying her and having two amazing kids with her.

And I could never have dreamed that she would be so good at wiring a house!

Leanne shows you her sketch of what's going on in them there switch boxes.

Before: Leanne shows you her Dad’s sketch of what connections need to be made in them there switch boxes.

Yes, it’s true you can do your own wiring but make sure you have someone on your team who knows the current electrical code. You’re not moving in until the City approves your work.

Leanne’s Dad is a retired electrician and he is great for help and advice, but it is Jim from Golden Ears Electric who is our electrician on record. He does the complicated stuff and walks Leanne and Dave through what they have to do for the 2015 BC Building code. He pulled the electrical permit and if we mess up, it’s his license that is on the line.

We really appreciate companies like Jim’s who are willing to trust us to do a lot of the work. In return, we do our best to make him them look good when the City inspectors come around.

There is no way we could afford to pay Jim to do all this stuff.

After: The satisfied smile of a job well done.

After: Ready for electrical rough-in inspection. The satisfied smile of a job well done.

Jun 122016
 

Back in December, we made a couple of new political contacts.

John Horgan, James, Leanne,

John Horgan, James, Leanne, and George Heyman in The Little Yellow House

They were John Horgan, MLA for Juan de Fuca, Leader of the Provincial NDP and Leader of the Opposition in Victoria as well as George Heyman, the MLA for Vancouver-Fairview and the Opposition Spokesperson for the Environment, Green Economy and Technology.

Continue reading »

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!

Jan 312016
 

We’re entering a new phase in the renovation and retrofit of Hammond Forever House.

If you would like to visit and learn more, send me an e-mail at jamesrowley@telus.net and we’ll try to arrange a time for me to show you around. There is lots of work still to be done and if you are willing to pitch in, we will not say no!

The tent.

The tent.

This past week was a difficult one. To make it possible to build the addition and upstairs dormer in the middle of winter, our contractor erected a huge plastic tent over the house. Smart, right?

DSC02968

Unfortunately, it leaks. Leanne and I have been mopping up the floor and setting containers under drips so that not too much water gets through. It’s not too much of a problem if water gets through to the new construction which will all dry out, but we have been noticing signs of water damage on the ceiling of the living and dining rooms which makes it hard to sleep on these rainy nights.

On Thursday evening, January 27th, Leanne and I contributed to a panel discussion after the screening of a film about environmental activism. The film was called 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

Electrical
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:

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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?

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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.

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

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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!

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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.

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Lumber

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.

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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.

Plumbing

The future legal basement suite plumbing and sump have been roughed in by Meadowridge. Thanks guys!
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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?

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Electrical

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.

Back-filling
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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!

Windows:

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!