Saturday, August 30, 2008

My Favorite Stripper is Now Soy

In our continuing quest to spruce up Humphrey House in advance of the Green Home Tour, we're finally getting around to attaching the trim in the first-floor bathroom. While we had removed a lot of adhesive off the original porcelain tiles last spring, there was a slight haze in spaces (noticeably, in the grout). So we took one last stab at it with a new product, and I can happily say, I'll never use another stripper again.

Last month at the Illinois Renewable Energy Fair, we ran into a vendor selling Soy-based industrial cleaning products. One in particular that caught my eye was a Soy-based stripper called Soy-Gel, manufactured in Bloomington, IL. Knowing we had a front door we may want to strip the paint off of, we purchased a liter for $20. Not only is it environmentally safe, but it has very low VOC's when compared to other stripping products, meaning it won't burn a hole in your nose when working with it.

After we purchased it, we decided to paint and not strip the front door. So when i was staring at the bathroom floor one day, I realized that may be a perfect place to try out the soy stripper. I brushed a layer of the gel stuff on the entire floor and let it sit for a few hours (Label said: The longer it remains on surface, the better). After a few hours, I couldn't hold it anymore (and neither could the in-laws who were staying with us), and I went to wipe up the jelly stripper.

As soon as I started rubbing a paper towel across the floor, the gel turned yellow, indicating the gel had lifted up residual adhesive glue. And let me tell you, there was a lot of it. Apparently much more than I had thought. It must have been hiding in the grout! In any case, the floor cleaned up very nicely and the old tiles don't look nearly as aged as they did before. Best of all, there was no lingering smell. Once I washed the floor, any traces were eliminated.

I think this is one of my new favorite products, and I still have half a liter left to use! Hmm.. what to strip, what to strip...

(finished floor)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Chicago chemicals and computer recycling event

Household Chemicals and Computer Recycling Facility Open
- Saturday, September 6 from 8:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
- 1150 N. North Branch St.

Rid your home of unwanted paints, chemicals, and computers at our
Household Chemicals and Computer Recycling Facility, 1150 N. North
Branch (two blocks east of the Kennedy at Division St.) For more
information and a complete list of accepted materials, visit and click on “Household Chemicals
and Computer Recycling Facility” on the right-hand side.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

true colors

A few posts back, we asked all of you out there on the super-inter-web-highway to give us your feedback on some color ideas we had for Humphrey House. The response, both on the blog and via email, was amazing! We were happy to have so many people sharing their thoughts with us - very cool.

Jason and I were both really struck and somewhat amused about the general consensus that a red door was a big bad no-no. It was funny, because both of us had always, always intended to have a red door on this house. But you'll all be glad to hear that, after mucho consideration, we've axed that idea (along with several others).

But another point that really hit home was about the siding. As Bret, our friend and fellow house-rehabber (although on a different scale than us, for sure!) put it, "I just can't get past the siding." He was right. Neither could we. And so, last week when we were supposed to be spending seven days fishing on Lake Bellevue and frolicking in the Chequamegon Forest, we decided to stay home and take the siding out of the equation. Well, at least in front. We looked at other houses on our block and were surprised to notice that several had a different facade on the front than on the rest of the house. Confident we could pull it off at least half as assuredly as these other houses could, thus began our outer remodeling.

Fearing what lie beneath, we decided to take the vinyl off the front only instead of the whole house. As you can see, my father Kenny came up to assist us in our endeavors, and ended up leading the charge (as always). The best thing about Dad is that he's not afraid to be ambitious about projects. Must be an engineer thing. He certainly put his skills to the test helping us solve the riddle of how to transition from the siding we would leave on the sides and rear of the house to the original wood siding on the front. The solution? Copper-topped cedar corners with edging and trim, that I have to say look pretty amazing. Pix to come ...

But we still had the pesky problem of choosing a color scheme. Jason went to the Sherwin-Williams store and got samples and I did some test painting, and I think we have one we finally both agree on.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Tour Humphrey House on a Green Home Walk

On September 13, we'll be opening our doors to some of our Green-ovations and remodeling as part of a local non-profit group's Green Home Tour for houses in the Oak Park and River Forest area. Seven Generations Ahead is sponsoring the event. Here are the details:

September 13, 2008
Green Home Tour

The Seven Generations Ahead Green Home Tour, sponsored by Community Bank of Oak Park River Forest, will feature the most effective products, materials, technologies, and strategies for making your home green. Get an exclusive look inside high end and everyday Oak Park and River Forest homes that look great, save money, and are easier on the environment. Discover how to green your home-regardless of your budget or taste. Learn from homeowners and building professionals who have built and remodeled green.

A wine and cheese reception will be held immediately following the tour at the new green Marion Street Cheese Market from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m., where drawings will be held for a variety of green gifts. Tour guidebooks will be available at each home on the day of the tour, and all attendees will receive a free copy of Seven Generations Ahead's Remodel GREEN CD, an interactive green home product resource guide valued at $15.

Green Home Tour tickets are available for $40 in advance of the event from Green Home Experts or online at Tickets will be available for purchase at each home for $45 on the day of the event. For ticket information or further event details contact

I think the key phrase for us being included was "how to green your home-regardless of your budget" When Michelle approached about this, we were a bit hesitant until she insisted the goal is showing how you can be Green with attainable, little changes that make a difference, without spending a lot of money on the "green bling" of a wind turbine and solar panels or super-fancy (and expensive) IceStone countertops. As much as we'd love to have that "bling", we have to make choices that realistically fit our budget.

This tracks very well with our own philosophy on green building. Our addition to the Green Home tour is as much about making those choices as any of the actual technology we used. In fact, it also tracks well with a popular phrase in USGBC circles.. "If it's costing you more to build green, you're doing something wrong."

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Rocking the Block

In our third summer at Humphrey House, we finally made it to our first neighborhood block party a few weeks ago. In the past, we've either been out of town or had other plans, so it was nice to finally attend and get to meet so many of our neighbors and foster a greater sense of community. I grew up in suburbs that never had a regular block party, and after this I can see what I missed out on.

Although thunderstorms showed up around noon, it was a fantastic day. There were games for kids and adults. As our block party organizer put it: "Baggo, biking, beads, basketball, balloons, bouncing, bubbles, balls, and brownies. Mix in lots of rain, some ice cream, music and face painting, and you've got the makings of a great block party!"

Jen and I collected unwanted e-waste and ran it to a local recycling event that happened to be going on that day. And to help with the block party, we setup a beanbag toss tournament, where people paired up with their neighbors and chose a team name with the goal of advancing to a championship where the grand prize was a $25 Fuego Loco gift card. Armed with good bracketology principles, the games went off quite quickly. We even had a separate area for kids to play alongside the adults.

I was fortunate enough to be paired with our neighbor Phil, who was a self-proclaimed rookie. Others began to question that though as he started sinking hole after hole. Since Phil is a trombone player, and I sometimes play fretless bass, we naturally named our team "Unequal Tempered," giving a nod to the infinite number of notes available on these instruments. While our team did advance to the final round, we ended up losing to other musicians, Phil's wife Melanie and our neighbor, Jay.

With all these musicians on the block, it was happily inevitable we would jam. Our neighbor Jay (henceforth called "The Other Jay" to avoid confusion) is a great guitarist, and he led the charge in getting together an impromptu band for the evening. So before dinner, a few of us joined Jen and I in our basement to see what songs we all knew and had in common.

Surprisingly, after there was a lot of songs we all knew and we were able to hash together a pretty good set list. And even better, we found we could all easily play together. With just a couple hours jam time, "Jackson Humphrey and the Twilights" was born.

After a tasty potluck and grill-fest dinner, our block band played (sans Jackson Humphrey, who we all decided was in rehab) in front of Humphrey House, complete with amps, mics, a drum kit, and some candles to set the "stage." At one point, we even had a fantastic line of backup dancers, shaking what their mama gave them. Our set ranged all over the place and included covers of songs by John Prine, Stevie Ray Vauhgn, the Pretenders, Prince, and Jane's Addiction. I was playing bass, "The Other Jay" played guitar and sang, Jen sang and played the only instrument she's comfortable with in public (a tambourine), our new neighbor Mike played guitar, Deonte was rocking the drums, and Phil even brought out his trombone. Later in the night, Melanie even showed off her drumming skills. It was pretty awesome.

The whole experience was a great way to bond as a block, hang out with the neighbors, and find out who these people all are. Best of all, we set the date for closing the street again for another neighborhood block party: October 31.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Solar at the Beach

Last weekend, we gathered some friends together and took a day off for a sort of mini-vacation and traveled to the beaches of Indiana for a taste of summer. It was perfect warm, sunny day although a bit windy. There were a few changes in the area that I hadn't noticed last year. First of all, there are wind turbines popping up on properties in Beverly Shores, IN that took advantage of gusty day.

It also seems that more people hit the beach this year, as parking was very difficult. I ended up parking about 2 miles from the beach and had long walk to catch up with everyone. However, it was through the Dunes state park, which had a nice forest and wetlands area which made the walk interesting. I also got to see a nice use of solar energy. Since the area around the dunes is a semi-rural environment, it was neat to see that rather than the unsightly and costly expense of running utility lines all over the place, IN decided to invest in solar photovoltaic panels for standalone streetlight needs. Neat to see that public agencies are implementing long-term solutions to energy issues. Now all we need is more incentive for private citizens to do so.

The beach was great, but I neglected to properly protect myself. Sure, I lathered on the sunscreen all over, but I had forgotten to put some on my feet, which are now sorely burned. Two days later, I am still unable to walk normally without wincing. Damned solar energy! :-)
Oh well, it was all worth it to relax with friends and family at a nice day on the beach.