Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Over 1,000 pieces of candy ....

and we only hand out one piece to each trick or treater. Yeah, a lot of kids from Chicago come to Oak Park. But one thousand?


But I gotta say, it's our own fault. Coz we got the best house in the neighborhood! Our neighbors got the brilliant idea to have our second block party on October 31st, so the kids could go up and down and across the street without any worries.

And we had the best cast of characters. This year's list included:
(Clockwise from bottom left)
Combo priest/Jason.........................................Scott
Trina the Child-Eating Witch..........................Jen
Malcolm, pet zombie at large..........................Mark
The Grim Reaper..............................................Jay
Corpse Bride......................................................Julie
Classy Corpse Man...........................................Fake Dummy

The best quote I heard I think was "You all should be TV actors! You're damn scary!"
What was your favorite? Speak up ....

Bells, Books, and Candles ....

Get out your Graeme Revell and your old Ministry tapes, folks, the witching hour is upon us. We here at Humphrey House had the somewhat annual Halloween Soiree and Séance this past Saturday ... and it turned out to be a wicked good (work-free) party. On a sidebar, Jay and I are now forced to do research on a little boy who lived here and an Alamar who, well, didn't. Have a Happy Halloween!

By the way, do you have plans for Friday morning? More to come ...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Daily Herald Reprints WSJ Article with Editorial comments

We at Humphrey House were recently contacted by Chicagoland's surburban newspaper, The Daily Herald, as they wanted to photograph us for a reprint of the WSJ article "The Three Martini Revolution." Due to the negative slant this article took, we at first declined the request, but subsequently decided that it would be acceptable as long as they wouldn't mind clearing up some of the misconceptions.

So they did, and we are very grateful to the staff for allowing us to correct the misconceptions. The article came out yesterday (Sunday 10/29) in the Daily Herald's Home section. The online article has some of the editorial additions but doesn't have the photo they took of us.

Perhaps most exciting from this secondary episode was that the experience gave us a chance to feel better about the media and journalists. The reporter we worked with, Deborah Donovan, was very sympathetic and helpful. Thanks Debbie!

Sidenote: There has been quite a lively discussion (with some great Halloween costumes) over on about the whole Drink and Demolish debacle.
PS. More recently, the Today Show also allowed us to set the record straight!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Product Review: EZ Clean Paint Brush

A few weeks ago, approached us to see if we would be interested in evaluating a product from an environmental perspective. There are so many companies out there "greenwashing" their products and services (such as GE's Ecoimagination) that it is sometimes hard to cut through some of the fluff to find a quality product.

While we at Humphrey House aren't professional experts by any means, we are probably a bit more knowledgeable of some green building practices than the typical DIY homeowner. Jay's involvement with the USGBC helps out a bit in that regard. So even though we aren't yet ready to paint our kitchen, we offered to give our two cents on the "green" concepts for this product.

The product is the "EZ Clean Paint Brush", which essentially is a quality polyester bristle paintbrush. But this is not just any paintbrush, mind you. The brush's body has been ingeniously designed to allow water to flow through the handle, and out where the bristles are attached. The other end of the brush is threaded to attach to a utility sink or garden hose. The net result is that cleanup should only take "less than a minute" after a paint job.

Upon first seeing the name "EZ Clean", my initial impression was "great, here's another product hopping on the green bandwagon". But after reading the overview fact sheet claiming a clean brush in less than a minute (possibly 30 seconds!) I like the product in theory.

Depending on the size of the brush (and how much paint as loaded up on it) I've found it usually takes me 5-10 minutes to clean out a standard brush after using it. The EZ Clean Paintbrush's claim to green-ness is based on its water conservation features.

So let's try some guess-timations to quantify this. Typically, an older utility sink faucet or hose bibb will deliver 2 to 4 gallons per minute (gpm) of water – new faucets are around 2 gpm or less. So if we find a happy medium and state that a typical utility sink has an average rate of 2.2 gpm, here are our calculations for total water used in cleanup:

EZ Clean Paint Brush: 2.2 gpm X 1 minute = 2.2 total gallons of water
Standard brush: 2.2 gpm x 7 minutes = 15.4 total gallons of water

Based on the many assumptions above, the EZ Clean uses 14.3% of the water during a typical paintbrush cleanup. So from a water conservation perspective, the EZ Clean wins all sustainability arguments.

Manufacturing and Waste
In a thorough sustainability mindset such as cradle-to-cradle, there are other "green" aspects to consider besides the obvious water conservation features. The manufacturer has designed this product to last a long time, and in doing so has chosen many synthetic materials. The energy used in the production of oil-based plastics and synthetic polymers is far greater than a traditional wood handled paint brush.

The manufacturing process for plastics and synthetic polymers is generally fraught with wasteful business practices, and the EZ Clean Paint Brush gives me no reason to think otherwise. While the "Made in China" label does not necessarily guarantee non-sustainable manufacturing practices (reference), it is not outside the realm of possibility.

The manufacturer does say the plastic body for the brush is recyclable. However, the user must clip off the bristles before recycling it with other plastics. On the other hand, since there are likely to be far more uses out of this paint brush than the standard paint brush, there is less waste generated over the lifetime of the building (or brush's owner).

Ultimately, I look forward to actually trying out the EZ Clean Paint Brush at Humphrey House. Water conservation is a growing concern (just ask anyone in Atlanta or California right now), and the potential reduction of water waste from this product is another drop in the bucket (sorry, couldnt' resist the pun). In spite of some of the manufacturing processes that were likely chosen to keep the final cost of this product low and affordable, I do look forward to spending less time at my sink massaging the bristles of the paint brush to get it as clean as possible. All in all this gives us yet another reason to getting our kitchen on track and ready for painting!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Selling Old Kitchen Appliances

Last weekend, we continued the demolition of our old kitchen - more details to come in a later blog post. But in the meantime, our old appliances need a new home.

We've found Craigslist to be an invaluable tool for recycling our building materials, so there's no reason to think people won't be interested in our old Kenmore Ultra Wash II dishwasher, 36" Tappan 5-burner stove, or the original cast iron farm sink from Humphrey House. Of course, this caters to Chicago-area residents.

I really like the idea of finding people that can find a way to reuse parts of Humphrey House as we work on it. Not only does this help keep our remodeling "green" by reducing our contributions to the waste stream, it also gives pieces of our house a second life. For example, there was a lady who took a bunch of the old bead-board that made up our original attic walls and told me she was going to make furniture out of it. Or artists that take old windows and turn them into canvases (you'd be surprised how many people use old windows for this purpose). And as a bonus, you can hopefully avoid having to rent a dumpster!

So if you have some old house parts laying around, give it a shot. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Kitchen Demolition Party, part 1

Jay, Julie and Scott - The Wrecking Crew
Last weekend we sent out the call for a demolition party and started to tear into our kitchen renovation by beginning to combine the space with the small bedroom that was next to it. Because we first went to Jim Gill's house for the Illinois Solar Tour, and we then had to set up a temporary kitchen/pantry in another room of the house, we actually didn't start tearing into the lathe and plaster until late afternoon.

Our Wrecking Crew was rounded out when Scott and Julie showed up armed with humidity controlling masks and OSHA-approved Chicago Bears hard hats. And much to the WSJ's chagrin, we followed our usual procedures of holding off on alcohol until after the work was done. Unfortunately, later in the night neither of these prevented Jen from accidentally getting knocked in the head with the handle of a sledgehammer - she didn't have her hard hat on! Luckily she was ok, but next time she'll definitely be wearing the hats!

Julie and Jen tear into the wall
Julie and Jen tear into the dividing wall.

We ended up doing a lot of work - tearing down all the walls in the "other kitchen" room. And there were a few interesting surprises, too. On the exterior walls, we discovered that Mark and I did a good job blowing cellulose insulation down our walls because there were no gaps or spaces in the loose stuff. Best of all, we weren't itchy! But Scott won the prize for best discovery this time, as he uncovered an old leather shoe in the wall, which looked to be a vintage woman's dress shoe!

Next up is to finish moving out the old kitchen itself, so we can tear down the other half of the wall.