Thursday, February 28, 2008

Are Garbage Disposals Green?

This is a question I briefly pondered during our kitchen remodel. Now that we (Jen) are starting to get into gardening, we will likely get a composting bin, which we'll do once this record-setting winter finally passes over Chicago. But gutting our kitchen gave us the opportunity to get a garbage disposal too.

During the deliberations, I noticed an overstock In-Sink-Erator came up on eBay a few months ago, I splurged for it (and was later told by the plumber that I got a good deal on it). Now that it is installed, a few times I have flipped the switch and wondered how it impacted the enviornment.

Well one of my news feeds recently carried an article by the WSJ about this topic. At first, I was surprised to hear that some countries (UK, Japan, Australia) actually had legislation prohibiting the installation of garbage disposals. I was even more surprised that many are now repealing those laws and encouraging people to install these in their homes to help deal with the issues they're running into with solid waste management.

There is also an good overview of the environmental pros and cons of disposals:

Pluses: "Carting organic waste to landfills contributes to several problems. It requires using garbage trucks, which spew pollutants. In addition, mixing food waste into garbage can make it more difficult for sanitation workers to sort out recyclables, and more energy is required to incinerate the water-laden refuse. And most importantly, landfills themselves produce a lot of methane, a potent greenhouse gas."

Minuses: "Sending food waste through a kitchen garbage disposal, however, creates a different set of headaches. It increases water usage slightly, according to several studies. Engineers worry that as the waste passes through municipal sewer systems to treatment plants, the ground-up food sometimes contributes to clogging. And after treating the waste-water, plants are left with more sludge, which is costly to dispose of."
Most interesting to me was that the USGBC is considering awarding LEED points to homes with a garbage disposal. There is even some really advanced Swedish engineering that separates solids from water after the disposal has done its duty, and then takes the solid waste and uses it to create methane, effectively turning waste into energy!

As for the typical US home, most antiquated existing waste water treatment centers couldn't handle that volume of mixed food/water and would be overwhelmed. This is actually a concern expressed by other residents of our old condo building. People feared the sewer lines weren't large enough to accommodate everyone having a disposal.

Anyway, here at Humphrey House, we'll likely use a compost bin for most of the year and save the disposal for small pieces of food. And for when it is too darn cold to go out to a compost bin in winter!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Blatant Self Promotion: Leap Year Rock Show

Normally, we try to keep things here at the Humphrey House blog topical to our home renovation, but I couldn't resist sharing some news...

The rock band I play with will be performing at the House of Blues in Chicago this Friday evening!

It's kind of funny, because every other year or so, around St Patrick's Day, the Frank Tribes band manages to get a slot opening for a touring Irish band in Chicago's House of Blues. A few years ago, it was Gaelic Storm, this time we're opening the night for the Young Dubliners. This is despite the fact that we are a rock band (a la Rolling Stones, Beatles, Neil Diamond) with nary a hint of Irish music.

Maybe its something in the name "Frank Tribes" that sounds folksy. Or maybe it's because we'll be joined on stage by Rob Bochnik, the lead guitarist that plays with the Irish band, the Frames (whose lead singer Glen Hansard just won an Oscar for co-writing best song in the movie Once).

Best of all: There are free tickets.


Price : $18.00 - $20.00 *
date : Fri, February 29
door : 7:30pm
show : 8:30pm
genre : Irish Rock
age : 18+ w/id

More details at HOB web site

So if you're in the area, come out and celebrate the extra day we get for Leap Year in 2008!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lost Post: Repurposed gynasium floors

A while back, Jen mentioned that our hardwood floor installers filled the large gaping hole left after we removed the old kitchen wall by patching it in with some old gym floors. This might have left you wondering, "how do you know that?"

Well, after finally downloading some photos from our camera, we have the documented proof of this interesting way of using recycled building materials. Here is the patch where the original kitchen/bedroom wall used to be located (my, how things have changed):

And another, closer view showing the patched floors:

This final photo shows a bit of floor that needed to be patched as a result of widening the stairs, and leaving a nice open area to allow light from the stairwell to flood the family room / kitchen. You can really see some of the painted gym floor logo on this one:

As odd of a choice as it may seem, once the patches were sanded, the new maple blended in with the old maple pretty well. I just might have to grab the b-ball out of the garage and see if some of the talent that once graced that maple rubs off onto me. :-)

Lost Post: Zodiaq installation

Things were so busy at HH last month, that I never got a chance to get some photos up of the unusual process we went through when our Zodiaq countertops were installed. When they say engineered stone counters, they aren't kidding. Our installers used the latest technology to measure our layout, so the slabs can be cut and manufactured off site. Once we placed the order, they came out and measured with plans to install about 10 days later.

In order to get the proper layout and exact wall dimensions to ensure the counters fit every nook and cranny, their field measurements were done using... a camera? No really! Here's how it works. They had circular stickers about 6" in diameter that were plastered along the backsplash area of the walls above our countertops. These black and white stickers looked like some kind of high-contrast mini dart boards. There were also fancy sliding tools that were laid out at diagonals along the tops of our cabinets.

Witnessing this bizarre process, I asked the measurer guy if I could take some photos for our blog. He replied, "As long as you let me take some photos too." And he pulled out a digital camera and started taking photos from all sorts of angles like mad. It was like some kind of runway photo shoot. The flashes were blinding... but where was Giselle? SIGH ...

In all, there were probably around 50 photographs. Apparently, once the measurer got back to the shop, he simply loaded all photos into a software program, which read the targets and translated them into exact dimensions in a CAD program. My incredulous response was met with an "I've seen this before" look, and once he was done photographing, he took out a tape measure and measured the general dimensions "just to verify," but I think this was really a token effort to appease me.

A week and a half later, when the installers showed up with the actual cut pieces, they slipped into place like a glove. There was only one seam between our stove and sink in the entire installation, which is now hardly noticeable. The Zodiaq counters went in really quickly. Silicon adhesive everywhere, a shim here, a faucet hole there, bada bing, bada boom. And a few hours later, our Cappucino counters were done!

Special thanks to the guys at Sprovieri's for doing a professional job throughout the process.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Flat screen TV's - which is more energy efficient?

With every outlet we added to our kitchen, and throughout the rest of Humphrey House, it has given us a lot more opportunity to crank up the amps and our usage of electricity. While we've brought the house up to date (and up to code), sometimes I wonder if it would be better off if we didn't make electronics as easy to use. Especially when learning that televisions alone account for 1% of the US electricity use each day.

At any rate, when our designer laid out a plan to make the newly combined living space, the family room portion of our kitchen area had a nice feature laid out on it: A flat screen TV. As a red-blooded American male, I began to drool uncontrollably and have clear visions (which were, of course, in High Definition) of how to enjoy the space. Fortunately, Jen was soon dabbing my mouth with a handkerchief. The reality of budgets soon evaporated those dreams, and we pressed on with more important things to purchase for the kitchen. Like an oven and fridge, for instance.

However, once the original kitchen and PO's former bedroom were actually combined into one space, we were able to get a true feel for the new space. Something tangible that was simply too hard to grasp from a piece of paper where 1/4" was supposed to equal a foot. So once we saw the true shape of the room, we realized that the space would be awfully tight to accommodate any kind of couch and traditional entertainment center.

So, the dream of a flat screen crept back. A TV in this area is important not just as a staple of the modern American family room, but also because Jen is a self-admitted television junkie, and she was also looking forward to being able watch shows while cooking (I've been secretly hoping the Food network will be on a lot). We soon realized, that given the space, we would be forced to resort to David's original idea of a flat screen TV. There was no other choice. No, really. (Jay's fist pumping in the background as Jen agrees to the decision).

Anyway, I did a fair amount of research to find out how today's televisions use electricity, because I've been trying to be conscious about the amount we're using. After visiting a few sites, it was apparent that while flat screens use more energy than the old TV's they replace (cathode tubes), there is a difference between LCD and plasma technology. LCD's can use around half the energy that a plasma TV uses. A typical example might be:

  • Cathode Tubes = 100 watts
  • LCD = 200 watts
  • Plasma = 400, up to 600 watts
Here's a fun quote:
"In smaller screen sizes – say, less than 40 inches – LCD televisions are generally more efficient than CRT televisions, especially when you are comparing HDTV models... In large screen sizes – the 50 inch and above category – a projection TV is likely to be your most efficient buy... For intermediate sizes in the 40 to 50 inch range, it is difficult to pick a real efficiency champion. Most TVs sold in this category today are LCD or plasma flat-panel displays, and these two technologies are still evolving so rapidly that characterizing their efficiency by technology is difficult. " -

Interestingly, I learned that one of the reasons new TV's use so much more energy is because even when you turn them off, they are still in a semi-on state called "standby" which can still draw a fair amount of electricity (25% in some cases). Why standby? So that they power up quickly to satiate our demands for instant gratification.

So while Energy Star doesn't yet have a rating for flat screen TVs, we looked up power ratings and happily settled on a 37" LCD television from Visio, which, while in the "small" category based on the breakdown quoted above, seems quite large to us, and fills the corner of the room wonderfully. We got a wall mount bracket for the television, and I had the foresight to run an 1 1/2" PVC pipe in the wall before our foam insulation was sprayed in, so we can hide all the wires.
And let me tell, you picture just doesn't do it justice. The television looks incredible in real life!

Now if only we can get the Food Network to automatically come up by default each time the television is turned on...

Thursday, February 07, 2008


We're so close now we can taste it. And by it I am of course referring to the three cakes, 64 cupcakes and two batches of muffins I have successfully produced in the kitchen.

Sadly, I seem to have lost my ability to cook, however. My attempt at Tuscan Chicken with a mushroom wine reduction went horribly wrong (hey, guess what, the smoke alarm works!) and I even managed to burn eggs the other morning. Who knew four months out of commission would kill my cooking memory? Well, maybe once I get used to the BEAUTY of this new space my skills will come running back.

In the meantime, we've got several punch list items left, including finishing the electrical, adding trim to the cabinets, windows, doors and floor, hanging shelves in the nook, getting the couch, stools and tv for the sitting area, and more, but we're this close. Below are some photos to whet your appetite for more - BON APPETIT!

Friday, February 01, 2008


Now we just have to teach Cosmo about not being allowed on the countertops!!!