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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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!

four day work weekend

Today we celebrate the number 4. The fourth month of the year, the four-day work weekend we’re now in the middle of (bracketed on either side by a four-day work week), the number of days it took to sand the fir floors and the number of coats of finish I put on the kitchen floor today. I haven’t kept track of my laundry loads but we could definitely be up to 44 as I’ve been washing EVERY thing before it has a chance to get settled over here.

Last weekend Kevin and his dad put in a few long days sanding, sanding and re-sanding the floor upstairs. It was a painfully slow process and not easy on the lungs or knees either, but they got it done! Today the second coat of Osmo Polyx-Oil went down and it looks gorgeous! There’s still a bit of smell but it should dissipate quickly. To speed things along we opened the windows to the chilly damp air and made a fire. It’s so nice to spend time in this warm and quiet little house.

April 19 - Osmo oiled fir floor

April 19 - a warm wood fire

Delays are part of the process when it comes to building and sometimes things work out just as they’re meant to. The kitchen cabinets arrived yesterday but since they’re not getting installed for a few days yet I had the chance to put a few coats of Broda Pro-thane down over the concrete in the kitchen and back hallway. We both really like how it brings out more of the lighter and brighter tones in the dyed concrete.

April 19 - kitchen cabinetry

April 19 - dyed concrete floor with pro-thane (left) and without (right)

Over the past two weeks our builders finished trimming out all of the windows and they installed and trimmed the downstairs interior doors and made a start on the baseboards too. Who knew that the concrete would have so many little hills and valleys that the baseboards need to accommodate. (We were planning to tackle the baseboards but now we’ll just do the ones upstairs.) I nearly forgot, but they also surfaced both of our decks in recent weeks. (Now we just need some warmer drier weather so we can finish them.)

There are still two days left of this weekend so once the floor has dried enough I will get back to tiling the tub surround. It looks like we’ll get some help tomorrow too so Kevin and his family may well get a few more things off the list such as sanding the baseboards in preparation for installation, applying varathane to the window sills and door trims, patching holes and cleaning up scuffs in the walls, applying more paint to the walls and starting to pack things up at the old house. With so much to do work is going to seem like a vacation when Tuesday rolls around!