Friday, December 21, 2007

And if you're looking for the TODAY show blog link ...

All ya gotta do is CLICK HERE!

A donation has been made in your honor ....

At Humphrey House, we're not so much on the Festivus bandwagon. We do the whole Christmas thing. With lots of people, and lots of presents, and eggnog, and food, and Uncle Elvis hosting karaoke in the living room. And since we do it up so big each year, I doubt we'll have much time over the next week or so to do any updates - (although the drywall has begun!). But we do have a hiatus gift for you, our loyal readers, friends, and viewers - a little something to tide you over until our next post and make you feel all tingly inside.

Enjoy, and happy holidays to all ...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Soy-Based Foam Insulation

Our kitchen will be the warmest and quietest place in our house, thanks to the new soy foam insulation now expanding in our walls. The stuff is really neat to see go in and even better once installed.
Soy-based foam is made by BioBased, and expands about 100 times its original size to fill every nook and cranny in the walls, better than any kind of rolled insulation. Unlike traditional fiberglass insulation, which even though it holds thermal energy in, teh foam also stops air leakage. This will be especially welcome in the cold and drafty kitchen nook addition (located over a crawlspace).

And no, just because it's made from soybeans doesn't mean it's edible to people (or critters for that matter). We chose a soy product because, while there are other spray foam insulation available, this is the only one that is not oil-based (urethane), and it is a water-based spray, so it truly is sustainable and green. It doesn't even smell bad when they're spraying it. Loking

For our project, we needed to get a minimum R-19 in the walls to meet code requirements, so we went with a "closed-cell" version, which provides an effective R-value of 5.5 per inch! What does all this mean? Well for our kitchen, we won't need to have as many heat leads cutting into the floor, and we should see a big impact in terms of lower utility bills. We may not drop 50% like a whole-house (new construction) would get, but it will still be significant for this old house.

And as we've also discovered, it's an awesome noise barrier. When we checked it out last night, the room was almost dead silent. It will be nice to not hear the ambulances running down our neighboring street on the way to the hospital anymore!

There is video on BioBased's website that shows much better than I can explain how this all works. But if you're in the Chicago area and interested in checking out soy foam insulation for your home project, I recommend contacting Renewable Resource Insulation to see how they might be able to help. One note: this does need to be applied to open-cavity walls (studs). They don't yet have a product that can be injected inside existing walls, but I'm told it's in the works.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Insulation Made of (Human?) Hair

Our kitchen's breakfast nook is a bump-out over a crawlspace next to our kitchen. We originally thought this was added on, but after peeling back layers of the house, we now realize this was part of the original home. This latest discovery helped confirm that. We had to remove an odd covering that was above the ceiling joists in the nook, and it turned out to be hair! Yes, indeed Hair! After removing this, our floor looked like Cousin It got a trim.

But what exactly is it? We had briefly seen hints of the mysterious building material, but nothing quite prepared me for seeing the whole thing on our floor. It was quite a hairy mess! (sorry, I couldn't resist a pun). For those curious about this material, it was basically a 1/2" of hair sandwiched between 2 layers of building paper. It was clearly very old and practically disintegrated on touch. Unfortunately I don't have any "before" photos of this, but it was placed (not fastened) above 1x6 boards running perpendicular the ceiling joists. Above the paper/hair sandwich, another run of 1x1's were nailed to other framing to hold the thing in place. Here's a photo:

I simply can't believe this was used. Especially since elsewhere in the home (e.g. the walls, floors) there is no insulation! Maybe this was an attempt to keep the naturally cooler addition warmer? It probably only had an R-value of like 1. Also, exactly what kind of hair is it? Part of me wants to take it and get it tested. Is it horse hair, or some other animal? Perhaps human? Maybe a long lost relative? Will I find the body belonging to this hair buried in the crawlspace? All very engaging questions, you be the judge.

Jen and I will be making a tight building envelope and having soy-based foam insulation installed in our walls (more on that later), but while we were getting estimates, one contractor said he had seen this only a few times and it was clearly a sign of a pre-1920 building technique (our house was built in 1912). Hair. I never would have believed it. I'm left in wonder.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Beginning to look a lot like

2007 will be the Year Without A Christmas Tree here at Humphrey House due to our current lack of space and general state of chaos, so I decided to try my hand at doing some decorating outside.

We also are lacking power on the porch area due to the bathroom light fiasco, so my plan was to use straight up decoration and no lights. Thanks to Boy Scout Troop #49 for providing me with the lovely pine garland and "36 double d" wreath (that was a little disturbing to hear over and over) at a discount (sometimes it pays to show up late) and to dadoo for helping me to hang it up before the sleet and snow arrived and would have made standing on a ladder on our sloping stairs especially dangerous! I bought some "unbreakable" ornaments at Ace yesterday and when Jay came home we attached them to the wreath and the garland as high up as we could go (Scott, we needed you! :) Anyways, it all came out pretty, if a bit old-fashioned. Getting me in the mood if nothing else!

KItchen Cabinets pt 2

Jason never remembers to post a picture along with his essays, er, blog posts. This is from the American Woodmark website, and shows the cabinets we chose ... Townsend style, cherry wood, spice finish.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Our Cabinet Decision

Trying to be green isn't always as easy as it sounds, especially for remodeling homes. Although there is research that shows that green building adds only a marginal cost to a new building (commercial construction), it's not necessarily the case for home remodelers. We've discovered this the hard way, especially when selecting cabinets for our kitchen.

See, for our cabinets we did the traditional 3-estimates approach, but one of the estimates we did was from a local Chicago manufacturer, Urban Prairie, getting their feet off the ground at GreenMaker, Chicagoland's green building supplier. They offer cabinets made from sustainably harvested wood (not a clear-cut forest), minimizing wood waste, assembled with formaldehyde-free glue and non-toxic finishing, resulting in low-VOCs. The owner was really hip to our green remodeling efforts and tried to work with us as much as possible, but ultimately, the expense was still almost one and half times the cost of other estimates we received.

The second estimate was close to the "green" cabinets, but still a bit much for our budget. But before we went with the third estimate, cabinets from a big-box home store, I did want to know the manufacturer's sustainability practices. Specifically, where they get their wood from and how is it harvested, and whether their adhesives used formaldehyde. When I called American Woodmark, I got a first flustered rep who clearly had never been asked about this before. She took my information down, and I was called back a few days later by Bryan Earl, the vice president of marketing and communications.

Although American Woodmark doesn't score very high on the eco-friendly scale, Mr. Earl was fairly forthright and not ignorant on the topics. He explained that while the wood was not FSC-certified, trees were not illegally logged in some foreign country, but came from Appalachian mountains. One negative was the statement that they don't really replant, they just "let the trees take care of themselves" in terms of repopulating.

As for the adhesives used in the particle board, American Woodmark uses glue that does contain formaldahyde, but their products exceed HUD's air quality standards of .4 parts per million (ppm). Mr. Earl then proceeded to tell me that wood gives off formaldehyde naturally. While I don't doubt the veracity of the statement, I do think it might not be at as high a rate as formaldehyde-based glue.

Anyway, despite these issues, we are limited to a shoestring budget and unfortunately were not able to go with green cabinets, electing for other green features in our kitchen remodel. So a few weeks ago we placed an order for mission-style cherry cabinets from American Woodmark. The cherry is at least a quick growing tree, and more importantly, we have the satisfaction of letting manufacturers know that consumers are starting to pay attention to these issues.

Much to our surprise, our new cabinets arrived earlier than advertised last week. Ah! They're piled up in our living room now, and it have lit a fire under us to get the kitchen ready for them. It's amazing how room utility comes and goes as building supplies find a space in unexpected areas of the home!