Saturday, May 31, 2008

International Water Heaters and Electric Showers?

In mid-April, we took a brief break from Humphrey House to take a well-earned vacation to Ireland with our friend Jerry and visit some of his family. Of course we took lots of photos of the many interesting sites. There were even some neat things related to construction such as building with local materials (amazing number of slate roofs and stone facades), and a proliferation of renewable energy (lots of solar water heaters, geothermal heat pumps, and large-scale renewables such as wave power and wind turbines result from favorable sustainability incentives).

John's home in county CorkWe got hands-on with some interesting construction when we stayed with Jerry's and his cousin John's home outside of Cork. Besides being an excellent cook, and great guide as we traveled through Ireland, John lives in a fairly recent home (constructed within the last 10 years). At John's house, I of course was interested in the building techniques (such as no basement since Ireland is actually considered in the tropics and has palm trees) while Jen was fascinated by the gardens and chickens.

While the 3-bathroom home has a small oil-heated tank water heater, the upstairs shower actually had a unique feature - an electronically controlled shower valve that incorporates an on-demand water heater (similar to tankless water heater technology, only smaller). We came across this shower control in a couple locations during our travels.

At first, it was a bit confusing as Jen and I were both unsure how to turn it on. Once we figured it out though, we felt dumb because it was pretty obvious. These electric showers are really unique because they are connected to the cold water supply lines, and you just dial in the temperature you want and turn another dial "on" to activate it. This makes them more energy efficient, use less water, and surprisingly, there weren't any performance issues. John told me the two big manufacturers of these are Triton are Mira (owned by Kohler).

It was interesting to see how Europe (Ireland in this case) is more advanced and hold concepts like sustainability as integrated into their core. In many ways, the Irish haven't had a choice - they've had to be self-sustaining and conserving of their resources since they live on a rocky island with limited resources. So besides having a great vacation, we got a bit of education in how other parts of the world approach green building.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Green Goodness

We have a lawn in back again. YAY!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Patching in a lawn with drought tolerant grass

My feeble attempts at getting some kind of lawn in our backyard seem to be continually thwarted each year. Upon moving in, our original backyard had a massive pit full of sand in it from the Previous Owner's sandbox. Since we started working on the house, the backyard has been a massive traffic area and a natural construction staging area full of all kinds of debris and materials for our second floor remodel and kitchen renovation, ruining any attempts we make at reviving it.

Add in the fact that our backyard is small to begin with, has several tall trees and buildings surrounding it, and receives probably only 5 hours of sunlight, it seems like a continually futile battle. So futile in fact, that Jen has repeatedly said she is ready to throw in the towel and just make our backyard grass-free and turn it into a big landscaped area with pea gravel or pavers etc.

Since we still haven't decided what we're going to do with this space (we need a plan!), I am making a last ditch effort this year to once again plant grass seed. Since I want to avoid watering the lawn, I found a hardy variety of grass called tall fescue that is promised to be drought tolerant once it's established and good for cool areas and even shady spaces. After some research, this showed up as one of the "greener" species of lawn grass that would be appropriate. I especially liked this description of tall fescue:

Low maintenance. Tall fescue has excellent tolerance for heat stress and drought. It will tolerate moderate traffic and infrequent mowing. This species is not well adapted to high altitudes.

So I've sowed some seed in one last desperate attempt to salvage a grassy spot in our yard. I figure we'll eventually carve out some kind of plan out of the grass anyway, but it would be nice to have a "green" canvas to begin with. It will be interesting to see how this blends in with the existing (spotty) lawn grass, which I believe is typical Kentucky bluegrass. I'll have to get some photos up of our yard soon to show its progress.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Green Expo in Chicago this weekend

Spring is a busy time of year as nature returns, gardens start growing, and people come out of their winter cocoons. To celebrate this spirit, Chicago is hosting their Green Festival this weekend Saturday and Sunday downtown at Navy Pier. I'll likely be hanging around the Illinois Solar booth for a bit, but I'm looking forward to checking out all of the vendors and see how they might fit into Humphrey House.

May 17 & 18, 2008

Chicago Green Festival
Saturday 10AM- 8PM
Sunday 11AM- 6PM

Navy Pier
600 E Grand Avenue, Chicago