Eco Home Hop, here we come

There’s been a frenzy of activity over here as we tidy things up and get ready to open our doors as part of the first ever Eco Home Hop in our town.

Back when we were only dreaming about building our own place some day, we took part in some pretty cool tours in Alberta and BC. Some featured a single home, others featured lane way homes, and the most memorable included homes where each one was built with a different construction method, be it chip, slip and plaster; timber frame with straw bale; or faswall blocks. We learned so much from some great people and we’re excited to now be a position to pass the torch.

In getting ready for this tour, we’ve gotten to know some other fine folks in town who have built their own eco homes too. If you’re curious to see what has transpired we invite you to join us on Sunday October 26, 2014 between noon and 4 pm.

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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.

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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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