Green is Green… Unplugging from Cable

cablestream graph
cablestream graph

By Chet Zebroski

In the U.S. our paper currency is green.  This article may or may not be considered Green, but…  🙂  I’ll share how we’re evolving our television media intake to conserve our cash.

To put it simply, we’ve abandoned Cable and/or Satellite Dish as a means of television viewing.  It occurred to us how much we’re paying for the service and the value it represents.

Clearly, the fee is way more than what we receive in value when compared to our other ‘investments’.  For instance, I overheard my wife discussing costs with our provider when I heard her state we’re paying over $400 for merely 2 months service!  I immediately called out to her to cut it off.  We’re returning their boxes, thank you very much.

So, we started looking into streaming devices like the Appletv and Roku.

Online there are already people posting the pros/cons of unplugging, so to speak.  Here’s a link to a google search.  There are some excellent articles in that link, so I won’t get into the details here.  Clearly, people are concerned about this kind of Green!

So, we installed an Appletv device in one room and a Roku 3 in another, to checkout and compare the interface.  As many of the articles above explain, it appears as of this writing Roku’s interface is better than Apple’s.  We didn’t feel the need to invest in others as these two were top in the posts we read.

After many months now and some minor adjustments to our viewing habits, we’re totally on board.  We’re seeing less of our “Green” disappearing for no good reason, to be used instead for…  🙂  …things that were underfunded earlier!

A total win/win!  So we ask: Is that Green or what?!

Check it out for yourself and save a little Green.  🙂

Update 1/20/20:

It’s been years now and the proof is in:  Streaming far exceeds our expectations.  The only draw back is having to do our own programming.  It was routine in the past to follow the flow of of the major production channels and their scheduling.  These days alternative channels have saturated the market providing a vast variety of options allowing individual programming, whether entertainment, news, or documentaries.  All from a wide variety of sources, from the multi-national companies to local independents.

Small Master Bath – Borrowed Space

z bath indigo light

By Chet Zebroski

While working on the American Clay installation in our soon to be Den/Guest Room, we discovered loose tiles in our Master Bathroom shower.  There was no way around it, the Master Bathroom was to be our next excursion into transforming the style and use pattern of our humble ranch home.

Sarah Susanka has received notoriety for promoting the concept of living small in her book “The Not So Big House”.  It’s an observation contrasting developed space, small versus large, focusing on what makes a home special.  She puts forth that it’s not size so much that makes a place special, as it is it’s function, detailing, and relation to adjacent spaces.  The main point being: invest money on details and relationships, not necessarily on square footage.

Her work and observations flowed perfectly into and beyond the training we received while working at JSW/D, coauthors of “A Pattern Language” (another book on the study of successful design patterns).  JSW/D wrote a follow up to Pattern Language titled “Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design”.  It’s a book focused on successful residential design patterns only.  A link to the residential design patterns list can be accessed here.

Using these guides as a foundation for decisions, we saw an opportunity to improve our sense of space by enlarging the doorway into the bathroom and borrowing space from an adjacent closet and under the existing roof eave.  This is an example of the tactic “borrowed space”.  In one case, by enlarging the size of the door from 24″ to 64″ we gained a sense of space from the hall.  In another, by extending into an adjacent closet and under the existing roof, we take advantage of those elements and evolve their function with a new use pattern for our daily activities.

This is the wake up room.  The place where we spend time preparing to meet the day.  In a small space such as our bathroom, we worked to minimize visual clutter to maximize a sense of tranquility.  So, we took care to choose each detail carefully, assuring a pleasant space.  Though the selection phase was slow and deliberate, the end result is that each and every element was chosen by us, with no exceptions.  It was worth the effort in the end.

We got some positive press from Fine Homebuilding in their Fall/Winter 2007 issue when we completed this aspect of work.  Here’s a copy of the article below in pdf form.  (Reprinted with permission © 2007, The Taunton Press, Inc.)

FHB Zs master bath
fine home building master bath article
fine home building master bath article
FHB Zs master bath

Clay Plaster – The Benefits Therein

By Chet Zebroski

As we created the natural light in our hallway via a built-in cabinet/art niche, we also turned our attention to improving the layout and function of the adjacent bedroom, soon to become Den.  The existing bedroom plan was odd, in that it didn’t provide a resting place for the open door among other issues.  So, we took the opportunity to revise the layout.

den before and after

By eliminating an existing closet we expanded the sense of space in the room.  And, by placing a new smaller closet next to the door opposite the built-in cabinet, we created an area along one side of the room for clothing storage.  This tactic created a larger sense of space within the same footprint.  To soften the atmosphere we introduced elliptical arches into the space.  But, the real joy we discovered was in the finish material of the walls:  American Clay Plaster.

This wall finish is natural, unlike modern paint.  It’s base is clay and natural minerals are used for color.  Odorless?  Well, there are no toxic fumes, but there is a joyful wisp of ionization as the clay interacts with the atmosphere in the environment.  We’re all familiar with this smell, or aroma.  It’s similar to Petrichor, the smell in the air just after a fresh rainfall.  The atmosphere in the rooms finished with clay plasters involve a natural interaction regarding humidity levels.  So, there are many reasons to choose this finish to enhance our indoor air quality and sense of space.

There are contractors out there available to apply this finish.  I’ve read the costs are coming in at around three times the cost of painting for the basic finishes, more for stenciling and other detailing.  The options are vast, so pricing varies depending on complexity.  Being on a tight budget and having more time, experience, and confidence, we decided to apply the finish ourselves.

I won’t bore you with the details of the application.  But, will provide a number of photos to share the process.  It truly transforms the sense of space far beyond simple paint.  You can actually sense it, if you pay attention.  Working with the material is pleasant.  There is no fear of chemicals during prep, application, and clean up.  All natural, water based clay plaster with minerals added as a colorant.  Also, in these photos, we share a technique for softening the sense of space by use of elliptical arches. The use of the arches in this room helped to soften and define the space while keeping it open.

Water down the drain? – on d’mand hot water

By Chet Zebroski

Beyond Green

Inspired as we are to harmonize with nature by creating as much solar electric energy our homes need annually, we also come to understand the impact of our water use.  We realize too much water runs down the drain as we wait for warm water.

A simple tactic homeowners can take is to not allow water to pass down the drain while waiting for hot water.  Many people are placing buckets, or other containers in the flow until warm temperature is at hand.  While commendable, many just don’t have the patience and/or motivation to perform such a duty.  Another tactic would be to use the stopper at the sink allowing the cold water to accumulate until enough hot water has warmed it up for use.  But, this too has it’s limitations.

Priming with Hot Water D’MAND

The good news is that there’s a pump that can be retrofitted strategically to prime the majority of the hot water line with hot water.  It’s manufactured by ACT and is called Hot Water D’MAND Kontrols Systems.  They offer many options for water conservation for both residential and commercial buildings. Here’s a link to the product used in our small home:

One of the first things we did during our remodel was to install this recirc pump at the kitchen sink for our hot water.  The kitchen’s hot water line runs past the bathrooms.  So, those lines would be primed with hot water at the main line, delivering hot water to the bathrooms with very little cold water left in the branch lines.  In larger homes additional pumps may be required to attain efficiency.

The pump works by forcing the cold water in the hot water line into the cold water line by use of a clever plumbing fitting.  That’s right.  The pump is powerful enough to force the water into the cold water line until it reaches a temperature of 72°, then automatically shuts off.

While Laundry to Landscape can be done by most homeowners using simple tools, we felt this gadget may require a plumber for a proper connection.  But, for those of you more confident in your capabilities, here’s a link to a video of an installation:

More: The image at the top captures the title.  Here’s a link to the article that it’s from, explaining many of the aspects of grey water.  The more we learn, the better we become.  Let’s embrace this moment and use these techniques to change the way we share space on this precious sphere:

Home Design – Natural Daylighting

By Chet Zebroski

Once the water intrusion, air infiltration, and insulation solutions were installed in our crawl space, we moved our attention onto interior improvements.  With the desire of opening up circulation and providing natural light into a dark hall, we started by removing a door and related framing to allow additional daylight to enter the hall space from the Living Room.

We considered adding a skylight for natural day light, but the roof form over the hall where we’d like to place one is way too complicated.  So, we came up with the idea of borrowing light from a bedroom window and feeding it through a large display niche into the hallway.

What happened is that while contemplating a solution for gaining natural light in the hallway, a friend/client and I bartered an exchange.  I did some design work for him, and he did some glass blowing for me.  His work actually inspired the concept of the niche in the hallway instead of a skylight because we needed a place to display his art.

It occurred to us that by using a niche as a light-source / display-space in the hallway, we could also expand the niche on the bedroom side and provide a built-in cabinet. ~and, avoid the hassle of putting in a skylight.  We wanted to make improvement to the bedroom, too.  So, it’s kind of a two-fer.

We love built-ins and the charm they bring to a home.  So, game on!

By removing a door and related framing from a hall entry, and providing a source of light from an adjacent bedroom’s window via a large niche, we provide natural daylight into what was once a dark hallway.  These pictures should be self explanatory…

Tightening Up the Envelope: Controlling Crawlspace Moisture

By Chet Zebroski

So, this is the first post in the Home area. I thought to share how we’re remodeling our home, bringing it up to date aesthetically and performance-wise.

We own a small ranch home in Marin County, just outside of San Francisco. We bought it because of it’s location and potential for improvements. The house sits on a keypoint in the hills facing East and water accumulation is a seasonal issue on our property.

One of the largest issues faced by designers in meeting California’s Energy 2020 goals are poorly performing existing buildings. We understand that conservation is one of the most powerful tools we have to meet that goal. Using our home as a source to share techniques and lessons learned seems logical.

We started with the building envelope, making sure insulation was in place and further tightening up the walls by sealing around outlets and other penetrations on the exterior skin. We discovered that we have R-19 batt insulation in the attic and R-11 blown-in cellulose insulation in the walls.

Then, we quickly turned our attention to the underfloor crawl space, addressing the water percolating up in our subfloor crawlspace. Water accumulation in a crawl space can cause many structural and health issues if not resolved. For this property, we knew we had to somehow alleviate that potential. Consider that when these wet conditions are active, vapor pressure will force the moisture into the house through any means available increasing humidity inside bringing along with it potential health issues.

We hired Foster Pump for the consultation, solution, and installation. After reviewing the situation, they recommended creating channels around the inside perimeter of the foundation and midpoints guiding the seeping water to a sump pump. The solution would include a continuous pool cover as the vapor barrier , covering the entire crawlspace, in case water accumulates above the channels. If so, the barrier will rise with it. When the water reaches the sump pump, a float triggers the action and water is directed to the curb/gutter via a 1.5″ diameter pipe.

They also recommended a continuous sub-drain around the exterior perimeter of the house, but that was just too expensive for us. Plus, we had concerns that even with the continuous exterior sub-drain, water would still percolate at the midpoints in the crawlspace. So, we decided to place the interior work first to discover how it would perform.

I have a few pictures to share of this primary performance remedy below. The application of the channels, vapor barrier, and pump made a radical improvement on interior humidity levels and reduced the amount of condensation that accumulated on our single pane aluminum windows to near zero. It is doubtful that we will be adding a perimeter drain system because the water intrusion seems to be under control.