Friday, February 20, 2009

How 'green' are you prepared to go? Where will you draw the line?

Everything we do has an environmental impact somewhere at sometime. Even carbon-neutral activities can have a degree of environmental impact e.g. Solar-power is a great free 'clean' energy source, but what about the fuel consumed when used to ship the solar panels to your home? Or the production of materials used to get the solar system working - have they all been manufactured using 'clean' energy and did they use harsh chemicals during the extraction of the raw materials needed?

We can criticize every product and find fault with them all - but where do you draw the line? At what point are we realistically balancing the impact on the environment, our own well-being and our own financial stability? You really have to draw a balance between all the variables - there is no perfect solution! Taking small steps in the right green/sustainable direction is definitely a good approach vs. burying your head in the sand...

Let's face it - nothing is perfect and no one is guilt free! To that end, you have to decide what realistically works for you. We personally try to balance a number of factors when deciding which materials to use in the construction of our home. Ranging from proximity of any raw materials through to the impact of a particular product on our own health.

So when is something GREEN enough?

Degrees of 'greeness' definitely depend on the product type you're considering. We try to take into account:
-> Is it energy efficient? e.g. Energy Star appliances will use less electricity = lower energy bills
-> Does it save water? e.g. Consideration of guttering to collect water run-off = less water needed to e.g. water the garden
- Is it made from non-toxic/hazardous materials? e.g. Wood-Stain - will it 'off-gas' and emit VOCs (volatile organic chemicals), these have shown to cause ill health
- Is it made from recyclable or renewable sources? e.g. Bamboo flooring, bamboo is rapidly-renewable, and requires far less energy to harvest and produce than most ‘lumber’ products (but huh-oh - it would cost a fortune to make a home from bamboo, that's why we are using FCS certified lumber that comes from managed forestry programs - see what we mean about balance of different variables?)
- Are the products more durable? E.g. Metal roofing lasts longer, no need to replace it within our lifetime = money savings, less energy and effort required
- Is it recyclable or biodegradable? Packaging of products, will breakdown naturally, could make up part of a composting heap
And finally...
- Is it AFFORDABLE? Let's face it, so many green products have premium pricing, how can we expect to buy some of these items, we don't all have an infinite amount of cash to spend!! Sensible spending/savings = less stress!!

This topic came up, as we are looking into spray foam insulation (SPF - Spray Polyurethane Foam). Many SPF products now claim to be 'greener' and use SOY as a substitute for other chemical components. FACT: there is only a small percentage of soy in SPF (much less than 50%). Does that make a product any more stable and durable? - Who knows? - The jury is still out on that one!

All spray foam is solvent free and contains no added formaldehyde, so that's good news all round! The best part is that SPF has a high R-value making it an excellent insulator. The net result: an air tight insulation, a moisture resistant barrier, excellent energy savings, reduced fossil fuel consumption, lower electricity requirements for heating and cooling your home = saving you money.

Even if you think you might use a SOY-based SPF, do your research, we just recommend selecting a big enough company that will stand by and guarantee their product should any problems ever arise!!

Small steps = improved well-being + greater money savings + healthier environment

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Can you build SUPER MODERN-LOOKING STAIRS under NYS residential building code?

Our beautiful stairs are now complete with cedar hand rails, guards and stair balusters. While I personally would have preferred the whole staircase to be completely open (as in those really super-contemporary homes), we wouldn't pass an inspection.

The NY state residential building code is very specific, which makes me wonder why how so many of these modern homes actually pass code on their stairs? I can only imagine that super-modern homes are pulling out all the railings once they have received approval.

To summarize the code stipulates that the guards on open sides of the stairs have to be 34" or higher and that the balusters (the vertical posts in between the guards and railings) must be no further than 4 3/8" apart. There are plenty of other measurements relating to minimum widths and height of clearance between stairs, riser slope max. 8 1/4" etc...

My verdict for now - as we have no other choice - we have to live with code - I do love the stairs, they are beautifully crafted and make a wonderful part of our great room, enough said!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

HIT or BUST - BUILDING in a RECESSION or [Depression]?

Like me, you've probably seen a load of articles in log home magazines recently, encouraging individuals to buy and build homes in this present economic climate.

Before you do...stop and ponder for a while before you commit to anything. Otherwise it could end in tears...

Speaking from my current experiences, I wouldn't advise anyone to do this right now, unless you have substantial savings to cover all parts of the project and you know that your job is safe. If we do fall into an almighty depression (some may argue that we are already there), you have to ensure that you have substantial funds to carry you through.

The one thing I would say, land is probably going to come down in value over the next year or so, so from that point of view, it's a buyer's market. Remember, if you do find something you like enough to buy, you'll have to pay taxes on any acreage, so ensure that you have enough greenies ($$$) to cover this.

There are certainly many deals on log home packages, plenty of out-of-work builders, so you could get cheaper prices all round. Although it may be cheaper on the whole to build now, and you can certainly benefit from good deals, don't enter into the project because you think you are getting a bargain!! Building a home from scratch is costly, don't kid yourself into thinking otherwise.

We had planned to build our house well over a year ago, however due to circumstances, (which were out of our control - a story for a later date), we had to find and purchase a new location. By which time we had already ordered our log home, all the logs were milled and ready for delivery. Thankfully our log home company (Moosehead), were gracious enough to store our home until we had found a new location! We would have never chosen to build in such an scary economy! Thankfully we have a great construction loan with a great local bank. The bank's employees are all wonderful people (Bank of Coxsackie), I've never had the pleasure of working with a such a nice bunch of individuals before.

So back to those log home magazines (whose revenues are partly funded by the log home companies, that purchase advertising space in return for unofficial editorial coverage). While they have quotes from various log home companies presidents, motivating people to commit to this sort of project, I have to question if they are really thinking about keeping their own businesses afloat vs your own personal financial buoyancy!

Monday, February 9, 2009


On inspection of the work completed last week, we were concerned about the increased number of 'CHECKS' appearing in many of the main truss arms, the vertical supports and solid logs.
('checking' - crack-like structures that follow the wood-grain direction - nothing to do with bank accounts).

In some places the 'checks' appeared to run the complete length of the wood section. We suddenly had a few questions that needed answering:
Are these cause concern, would the structural integrity of the supporting structure be compromised in anyway?
Are these really 'checks' or 'cracks' in the wood - how could we tell the difference?

Fred phoned the main designer at the log home company. He told Fred that these were not a cause for concern and that they occur when the wood dries out.

We decided to do some of our own investigation and trawled through a huge pile of log home magazines (collecting in the corner of our tiny apartment along side the wood samples, test stain-pots and other Green Log Home product samples).
Firstly, when you look at any pictures of log homes, (inside and out), you will see an abundance of 'checks'.
Checks do look like cracks in the wood, checks tend to follow and run along side the grain direction, whereas cracks, well... they just don't follow the grain at all and tend to be much straighter in appearance.

Reading a little more, we discovered why 'checking' happens:
Explanation of wood types taken from our website section >>Green Advice>>Log Home: Sapwood is located in the outer ring of a tree, near the bark and is the 'living wood'. Consequently it contains a lot of moisture and inevitably shrinks when dried. All wood in a tree is formed in the sapwood. The heartwood is located in the center of the tree.
Tension occurs between the cells of the heartwood and sapwood as they dry-out at different rates, as a result the bonds between the different cells break, causing a check to appear! Our home is now dry on the inside, getting drier by the day... as the wood continues to dry we may be surprised to hear the odd 'snap, crackle and POP' noise!

Friday, February 6, 2009

NEW BLOG FORMAT for Green Log Home

It's official, our last blog format was prehistoric, we couldn't upload pictures, the layout was nasty and impossible to edit with any success. Things have changed, welcome to our new blog and expect to see more posts on a regular basis.

So an update of where we are now:
The house is dried-in - apart from our recycled metal roof. We're waiting for the metal roof company to get back to us (it's been over a month now since we tried to contact them) and there remains some confusion on exactly how much roof covering will be required.

The house is dried-in, there's 8 separate layers in situ i.e. installed on the roof - the top being an Ice-and-Water-Shield. So no water or ice penetrates these layers or gets into our home.

We're hoping to have the foam insulation guy come and spray a layer of soy-based insulation in our home sometime next week. To fill-in-the-gaps! (OK I know - precision milled logs in place means there shouldn't be any, but the crew is still required to cut some logs on location).

It's really starting to take shape. The stairs were put in this week, which is great. It also means that we don't have to crawl up and down a ladder to get to different floors. Lol - that makes it sound as though we have multiples (basement + first floor [AKA the ground floor in the UK and rez-de-chaussée in France & Quebec] + second floor [or AKA first floor in the UK])!!

We are going up to the house tomorrow morning so we'll have some new pictures to post on our website early next week.

Have a good weekend!