two years and two days

After a hectic couple of weeks we’ve got this weekend off to a relaxing start so far. The sun is shining, we’re both healthy and the garden is looking amazing, especially for this time of year!

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My how time has flown!

One year ago the guys were framing this house.

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And two years and two days ago we had our first telephone conversation with the previous land owner. Things definitely looked a little different over here back then!

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We’re so grateful for all the wonderful folks who have contributed in making our dream of a healthy, beautiful home come true!

LEED points vs behaviour modification

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Last spring I wrote about our decision to work with Wakefield (our builder) on making our house a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) qualified build.

I like to think that our approach to the LEED rating system is different from most. We’re really aiming to stick to our values rather than competing for bragging rights, but sometimes it’s a slippery slope.

Understandably, the LEED rating system can’t give credit for modifying behaviours, since those are user-dependent and not usually unique to a home or property. This is where we find our ideals and the rating system the most challenging.

We’re pretty committed to behavioural changes that reduce our footprint. For example, we have modest commutes for work, let yellow mellow, don’t shower daily and hand water our garden. Sure there’s room for improvement but neither of us are big consumers either, choosing to repair our clothes and make things from scratch when possible. We also like to repurpose things and buy second hand when it makes sense.

Since we’re building a new house the incremental cost of an energy efficient appliance or fixture is often inconsequential. We chose to go with new:
– water efficient shower heads (you wouldn’t believe how many months it’s taken to get a 1.5 gpm shower head, but it works!)
– water efficient toilets (3 Lpf, discussed here)
– water efficient faucets
– water and energy efficient clothes washer
– energy star fridge (options for our size that met this criteria without a lot of extra cost were limited)

In some cases though, it didn’t make sense for us to try and chase points. For example, we found a dishwasher that will do the job for $25 and it’s not energy star rated. Given that we prefer to hand wash most of our cook ware though, it seemed better to save the money and give this old dish washer a new life.

Currently there’s no credit in the Canadian system for having a vegetable garden and for most of the landscaping areas to gather points you need to have an irrigation system. I’m not really keen on irrigating period, probably because there have been times when I’ve had to haul my own water. Rather than cover our property in grass and other plants that don’t belong here, we’ve gone with a mix of native species and drought-tolerant plants. We’ve also made heavy use of mulches, with some of that yet to be done.

As far as our footprint and piece of mind go, growing our own food is still really important so we’ve built the beds in the front and extended the original garden patch in the back. That will still need watering so we’re working on installing a rain water harvesting system to help with that. Last weekend we finally put the tank into position and by next week we should be able to hook it up. The plan is to use a gravity feed system to irrigate the vegetable gardens in the front and back yard. It’ll be low-tech for sure, but then it won’t require additional energy inputs either.

Sept 13 - the rain water harvesting system set-up

Building a new home and navigating LEED has been quite the learning experience. It’s taken us a while to wrap up the details but we’re hoping to get there soon!

a different kind of stay-cation

Computer difficulties mean this post from a month ago is a little late in getting finished…

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Last weekend marked the start of our little stay-cation. The goal was to finish up the bulk of the landscaping so we could relax and enjoy living here a little more.

In addition to the garden boxes and river bed that we built on the weekend, we also got help from two of the guys who were with us through most of the build. The sun was intense but we were all motivated and it was really nice to work and eat together.

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In just one day we were able to get the front and back yards planted. There was a LOT of road base to dig up and replace with suitable growing medium before adding the plants, the bark mulch and soaker hose irrigation.

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I’m really excited about what we planted. As I’ve mentioned before, much of the vegetation is what we see in nature only a few blocks away: red huckleberries, vine maples, bunch berries and ferns. There are also some flowers for colour, grasses for year round interest and some Saskatoon berries. Next year I’ll add some more of the low-lying native vegetation such as bleeding hearts and false solomon’s seal. We also hope to get an apple tree in the sunniest spot near the shed and another tree for out in the front.

Planting at this time of year isn’t ideal (although rain is on the way) but by next year we shouldn’t need to water these things at all.

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Planting wrapped up shortly after lunch and then the guys also helped to level out of our driveway/deck approach and cleaning up the remaining construction debris. We were tired at the end of it all, but it felt so good to have it done.

The next day we tried to take it easy, tending to other things on our list, but before dark we had managed to use up all the mulch, make a dump run of the rotten stuff that came with our site, and place all our granite chunks in the patio space.

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That was one of the most amazing things of all. We had simply planned to bring the massive pieces closer to the patio and try cutting one or two. In about 2 hours though we had placed all but 3 of the pieces that we’d ordered and hadn’t had to make a single cut!

We still need to get more road base and sand to level things out since our slabs are of various thicknesses, but for now it will do.

For the next little bit we’ll just relax and enjoy. Levelling the patio, chipping the pathway and installing the rain water tank will just have to wait!

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getting the yard ready

Wow, what a weekend! It was the hottest pair of days we’ve had yet and we spent nearly all of it outside. We shovelled (and shovelled and shovelled) for most of the weekend. Because of the rain last weekend we had a LOT to get done.

Jul 12  the start of a river bed

On Saturday we started by moving dirt to accommodate the rocks we saved for the river bed last summer. Then we shovelled the vehicle full of little river rocks which we carried by bucket load along the river until it was full. By the end of the day we were quite happy with the results.

Jul 12 River bed

On Sunday we moved to the front yard and were relieved to find that building vegetable garden boxes was a lot less exhausting than shovelling and hauling rocks on a hot, sunny day.

Jul 13 - a morning making veggie garden boxes

By coffee time we had the bottom box finished and by lunch time it and the one against the road.

Jul 13 - time for lunch!

There was a fair bit of rotten digging to get the last box placed correctly but it sure was nice to have a bit of shade as we finished things off and put our vegetable pots closer to where they belong.

Jul 13 - garden boxes ready to be filled

We couldn’t go in before dark so we spent the final hours of the day levelling out the patio area and preparing it for road base. We unloaded the couple of yards of material that was weighing down my vehicle, just in time for the sun to set.

Jul 13 - preparing for the patio as the sun goes down

Phewf! I hope this means the hard stuff is out of the way but something tells me there’s still quite a lot to get done!

with a little help from mom and dad

Wow, there is so much work to do with a new house. Somehow I figured getting inside the house would be the big step. Now I know that’s not quite true!

In the past we’ve taken on the landscaping that was left for us – from a well established tiny back yard where perennials covered the ground and brought pleasant new surprises every few weeks to the weed and fairy ring filled lawn with a few sparse perennials in poorly kept beds. Neither of us much enjoyed maintaining a lawn so this time we’re doing things quite differently.

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On this property our landscaping will focus on providing food for us and the birds, bees and butterflies while using as little water as possible. The wildlife-oriented landscape will double as a pleasant landscape for when we’re relaxing with family and friends outside. Doing away with the lawn should help to reduce my knack for getting mosquito bites and it means no more lawn mowing. That’s something we’re both quite excited about! More wildlife viewing is sure to satisfy us too.

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Since we moved to town a few years ago I’ve become much more knowledgeable about growing food and have been practising in pots and a community garden. I had hoped to have a lot more food growing in our yard by now but everything takes time. It was worth it to spend more time finishing things up on the inside so we can enjoy it now.

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We still have quite a bit of work to do but this past weekend was a quite a break through weekend. My folks drove up to visit with the full intention of working hard in the yard. With their help we were able to take care of a lot of the things on the list like levelling out the back patio, shaping the dry creekbed/runoff swale, and creating the foundation for the vegetable garden beds in the front. My dad also cleaned all the moss off of the shed!

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It was heaps of work and we were all tired every evening but it was so great to learn from such experienced landscapers and re-live how it was when I was young. (After we moved into our family home when I was two, my nan and grandpa became regular visitors. They’d work all day in the yard with my folks, taking care of the landscaping or picking all the garden harvests. I clearly remember when grandpa dug the big hole in the back yard, and picking shucked peas out of the bucket when nan and my mom were preparing food for the winter. And just like when it was my grandparents that were visiting, the older generation worked the younger generation under the table!)

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We’re so lucky that both of our sets of parents have been so keen to help us out.

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A home to enjoy living in

Ahhh… things are finally slowing down and we’re having the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of all our efforts over this past year.

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We started unpacking into the new space last month and what a joy it is to carry out the day to day tasks of our lives in this light filled space. Of course we’re not fully unpacked yet, but it’s so nice to have everything we need close at hand. The layout is proving to be perfect for the way we live and entertain.

Nearly every morning the sun shines into our room to wake us and nice views await us through every window. Doing dishes was a chore in our old dingy, windowless kitchen, but here it’s not a chore at all. From my well-lit space I can watch people walking by on the street or visit with guests who are sitting at the bar, in the living room or at the table. There’s enough counter space to work with, there’s more space in the cupboards to put things away and I even have room to keep 3 types of sprouts growing for our salads!

Lounging on the couch one day I was surprised to see just how much beauty was in view through all our windows. We have neighbours who have done beautiful landscaping and beyond that are the mountains and rich blue sky. (One just has to let those power lines and poles fade away.)

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Laundry gets done when it needs to, instead of stacking up for two weeks. It means we need fewer clothes in our closet, which is a really nice treat seeing as we’ve been blowing out knees and bottoms in a lot of our pants lately! (I’m not averse to a little mending, but there does come a point when it’s no longer worth it.)

I’ve also been keen to learn a little more about the birds that live around here and that was definitely a driver for having the covered porch in front. It took a while for us to get it stained so we could use it, but it seems the birds love it here too. I’m learning a lot just from taking notice of them when I’m working inside or puttering in the garden.

We’ve still got a long ways to go on the landscaping, but it is coming. We were surprised to find that the top soil that was removed to make way for the foundation, more than makes up for what we needed to raise the elevation in the back yard. We thought we were going to need to order a load and rent a digger but Kevin has managed to move it all by hand! There were also a LOT of rocks saved on site, and Kevin has worked his magic again, building up the edge of the patio area too.

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We also had a neighbour bring us a nice collection of raspberry canes and I finally picked up a rotating composter. I can’t wait until it’s cooked so I can add our own nutrition to give to the garden!

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Next up are finishing the back yard (building the patio and planting the trees and ground cover), finding a water tank, and getting the garden boxes built out front.

looking a little more finished

I’m beginning to see a trend… long weekends are becoming work weekends. I remember doing that a bit with our first house, but so far we’ve made them all that way in 2014. It’s a good thing too, because our house is now finally starting to look a little more finished.

May 19 - built in book case under the stairs.

We had unseasonably warm weather last week but by the weekend it had faded into perfect weather for getting things done on the inside. After taking a carload of construction waste for recycling, we were able to pick everything up off the floors and get ready to seal them. I cleaned, re-cleaned and triple-cleaned the floors while Kevin did the rounds on all of the unsealed fir trims. Then he oiled the stairs while I sealed the concrete floor in the front of our house. It was so nice to have a three day weekend so that the floors could have an extra day to dry before the tradefolk return.

May 19 - finished LR floor as viewed from the sink.

May 19 - osmo oiled fir treads

The lack of rain this weekend also made it a bit easier to work outdoors and start tweaking our landscaping plan. There are so many things about the front yard that we have to figure out so I spent some time in the back looking at the placement of our trees and the otherwise dry creek that will help manage run off during big rains.

dry creekbed (most of the orange flags). Future bridge is sort of shown by that floor/joist sample and trees are indicated by stakes.

Our architect took into consideration our desire for green and a “woodland forest” kind of feel in the backyard and it’s been so nice to walk out in nature and see just what he called for in the plans. I think naturescaping is probably the best way to describe it, and given the birds, bees and butterflies we see in similarly landscaped areas, it really should be the right kind of thing for our backyard.

A lot of what we like doesn’t look so great in the winter so there are some other hardy grasses and shrubs called for too. That, and we realize we’re going to wanta bit more space devoted to food growing.

May 19 - garlic, tomatoes, herbs and raspberries in the back.

I started this little garden last year before we had access to water and it did quite well, so with my mom’s help it grew a bit this year. I took this photo and then a few hours later we were given raspberry canes from a generous nearby neighbour. I’m so looking forward to home grown food again!

Until next time, happy May!