Author Archives: Grace

Grace

About Grace

The wife. The whiner. The motivator. The ideas person.

Good free help is hard to get!

Or, it was for a while at least. There were a couple of weeks there where the trailer was only half demolished, and (sorry, neighbors!) it looked a heck of a lot worse than it did when it was in one piece.

As it turned out, the first guys we gave the job to came to us and told us that they couldn’t finish it. But they brought another man with them who said that he would be happy to finish the job…which was fine with us, as long as somebody took care of it before we wanted to break ground! Without the trailer gone we wouldn’t be able to get construction vehicles onto the land without running over lilac bushes, which I would REALLY like to avoid! Lilacs are one of our favorites 🙂

So today a new group of people were out there working away, and now the trailer looks like this:

Trailer Take-Down

Wonderful progress!

Almost there now! (Please don’t let that jinx us…)

And since it’s been a couple days of lovely (not too hot) sunshine, Baby has been out there enjoying it. That’s his grandfather in the picture.

Grandad and baby

Hey, a hat!

Grandad and baby II

It looks better on me, right?

Guess what Baby’s got his hands on…

Drum-roll please…………………………………………………………

We have a BUILDING PERMIT!

That's right!

That’s right!

In other (brief) news, the people who are in the process of tearing the trailer down have suspiciously disappeared since last week. Granted, it was raining for about half of the days they’ve been missing, but the rest of the days have been sunny and not deathly hot or anything…where are you, fellas?? That half a trailer is calling your name!

 

Building a Healthy House

My commitment to building a healthy house is the latest in a long line of projects I’ve undertaken to limit my and my family’s exposure to potentially harmful things. Some family and friends might call it an “obsession” (you guys know who you are!); but I prefer to call it being careful and particular about what I use and am around 😉

This journey started out in college, and it began as a result of me being a huge fan of wet wipes. I used them all the time, and I went through a lot of them every week; they were a staple on my weekly shopping list.

One day I woke up with an extremely dry mouth. I was thirsty the whole day, and no matter how much water I drank the dry feeling wouldn’t go away. This continued for several days and I was really puzzled, but figured I was just dehydrated, and it went away as suddenly as it began. A week or two later, I reached for a wet wipe and almost as soon as I used it, my mouth dried up and my sinuses started burning. It was an “A-ha!” moment. I realized that the chemicals in the wipe I was holding were causing an immediate negative reaction in my body. I tested out my theory twice more that day, just to check, and the same thing happened each time I used a wipe. After that, I stopped using wet wipes.

That incident changed the way I thought about, well, pretty much everything. Every product I used, I gave a thought (or 50) to what ingredients went into making that product. I wanted to do my best to avoid a lot of the things that most people don’t pay attention to or even realize are found in commercial items (synthetic materials, chemicals, pesticides, etc.) I looked at my food, clothing, body care products, baby products- the whole nine yards. So of course when we began planning our house, I wanted to make sure it would be the healthiest house that it could be. Because of this guy:

This is what the baby thinks of toxic substances in household goods

This is what the baby thinks of toxic substances in household goods

We want to shield him from as many health problems as possible, and to keep ourselves healthy so that we can be around for him for a long, long time. By chipping away at the things that can make us sick, hopefully we’ll be doing just that.

Here’s a breakdown of things in the house-building/furnishing process that can cause indoor pollution. I borrowed this list from the book Prescriptions for a Healthy House, by Baker-LaPorte, Elliot, and Banta, which is one of our guides in this process:

1- VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds. “Volatile” means that these compounds evaporate easily. Usually, they’re used as solvents in substances like paint or glue. Some household things that commonly contain VOCs are carpets, plywood, wood finishes, spray-on insulation, particleboard and, of course, paint, to name a few. VOCs can be natural (like turpentine) or synthetic (like acetone), but they’re much more likely to be harmful if they’re synthetic. Items that contain VOCs slowly release the chemical vapors into the air, which is called outgassing.

2- Toxic byproducts of combustion. Fireplaces, woodstoves, and appliances that burn gas and kerosene, such as water heaters and furnaces, use up oxygen in the house and release harmful gases and particulate matter into the air.

3- Pesticides/biocides. Not just sprayed on lawns and plants, soil under houses is often treated with pesticides before the houses are built. Wood and other building materials are often sprayed in an effort to prevent mildew and mold from growing. Pesticides can be very harmful to humans, especially to children, and can cause a wide variety of ailments.

4- Naturally Occurring Pollutants. This category includes things like dust, pollen, mold and mildew, radon and heavy metals. They are “natural” because they occur by themselves in the environment and are not brought in with building materials, but they are still harmful and should be as limited as possible within the home.

5- Electromagnetic fields (EMFs). The location of things like power lines and radio waves outside the house, and things like computers and microwaves/other appliances inside the house, or poorly done wiring, combine to create electromagnetic fields that can adversely affect home-dwellers. Scientists have only recently started looking into the effects of EMF on living organisms, but the research that’s available shows that the effects can be pretty major.

I’ll get into more detail with specific products in other posts, so forgive my generalization here, but these are the sorts of things that we’re going to try very hard to avoid and limit while putting our home together. This will entail a lot of research on our part, and close examination of various building materials and products from different companies to see which best fit our wishes and our budget. If anyone has any suggestions, do feel free to let us know, and as we go along I’ll list the materials we decide to use and the reasons why, and the benefits of each.

The first draft of the house plans is here… and it is a disaster!

First the good news – we got our first set of plans from the architect! And they arrived (via email) really quickly – it only took a few days, which was a pleasant surprise.

The bad news? We’re apparently really bad at communicating with our architect.

Let me explain. We gave the architect a lot of specific guidelines for aspects that we wanted included, such as: we wanted an open floor plan, we wanted a certain footprint (about 25×30), we like our privacy (and don’t want to be on display to neighbors/the road), to name a few. And he managed to pretty much include everything we were asking for, only in the opposite way of how we were envisioning it! And all this because we never communicated our VISION for the house to him, we just expected that with a list of guidelines what he came up with would match what was in our heads. For example, that part about liking our privacy? He allowed for that by putting very few windows on the front of the house, and in other places like the kitchen (facing the neighbors) and a few bedrooms (facing the road). And while we DO like our privacy, that really means that we want windows where windows would normally be, but we’ll just take it upon ourselves to hang curtains or put in frosted windows for privacy – which is something an architect isn’t really concerned with, seeing as it’s not a structural matter. Should we have really said that we “like our privacy” when there’s nothing we wanted the architect to actually do about it? Probably not. Communication fail.

This is our sketch of the floorplan.

This is our sketch of the floorplan.

What the plans did really do for us, however, was give us a sense of scale that we were lacking while dreaming up this house. We got to see how compact things will be, and how very carefully rooms and appliances need to be arranged within the house to give it the “feel” we’re going for.

So, armed with this new-found sense of scale, Husband took Wife’s dictation and drew a sketch on the computer to get what she was envisioning on paper (so to speak), and then Husband and Wife together re-arranged and worked out exactly where they would prefer things to be, with minimal name-calling and tears. They then sent these sketches to the architect and asked him to do his thing and make it all work architecturally (plumbing in the correct walls, appliances lined up correctly, doors and windows measured out, etc. etc.)

Note from Husband: We also took the architect’s suggestion and increased our footprint to 28×32. Which is only a couple of extra feet in either direction, but boy does it make a difference.

Fingers crossed for another quick turnaround with the architect and for our plans to work out structurally!

You think it'll work??

You think it’ll work??

About the Site (the building site, not the website)

Well, we have our “bit of earth”- about 3/4 of an acre of property, and about half of that is a sunken marshy area with a cattle pass leading onto it. There are no cattle there nowadays, but due to it being low ground we can’t build there anyway. So that leaves us with about 1/3 of an acre to build on, and we have to do some careful measuring and juggling to fit some key elements onto it.

land006

The view looking from the road (and the corner of the trailer)

First- a well needs to be dug. We need to find out just how far from the road/property line it needs to be, according to code.

Second- a septic system needs to be put in. Per the building code, the septic tank needs to be at least 50 ft away from the well and the leach field needs to be at least 100 ft away, for pretty obvious reasons.

Third- a house needs to go up! Lengthy discussions and sketches and “bring-a-tape-measure-outside-to-see-exactly-what-this-will-look-like” sessions have led us to the conclusion that this house will be “compact”- not tiny per se, but certainly not sprawling. This is actually just what I was hoping for, but my gosh did the outline look tiny (TINY) when we measured it out!

Property map

Property map

The septic system is going to be on the lowest part of the property, and the well on the highest part, so there’s no possibility of septic runoff into our well area. So, looking at the diagram, you can see that there’s really only one way to set this up while adhering to the code.

Also, see that trailer sitting there, right on the site of our future well? That’s gotta go, either as a whole or in scrap pieces. It’s a bit of an uninhabitable wreck, but there are definitely some salvageable pieces on it if we do decide to scrap it. Our neighbors have assured us they will be oh-so-happy to see it go, and so will we 🙂

Why ICFs? (And what *are* ICFs?)

(… and what’s wrong with good old-fashioned wood anyway?)

So, you may be asking yourself: what the heck are these ICF thingys and what are the benefits of using them?

See? Doesn't look like a concrete bunker at all! (And the page I stole this from has some good stuff about ICFs and their insulating properties).

See? Doesn’t look like a concrete bunker at all! (And the page I stole this from has some good stuff about ICFs and their insulating properties).

Okay, so it’s really simple – ICF stands for Insulated Concrete Forms, and they’re like big legos for adults. They’re made of 2 polystyrene (think styrofoam) boards held together by plastic, and they stack easily together to create hollow walls. These walls are then filled with poured cement, and voila! you have an insulated concrete house that can be finished to look like pretty much any other building on the market (don’t picture Soviet Russia here – it doesn’t wind up looking like a concrete bunker, unless of course you WANT it to).

ICFs are, as I already mentioned, super insulated, due to the polystyrene the blocks are made out of. This means heating and cooling costs go way down (go green!) and it’s a lot cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Speaking of saving money, ICFs are (supposedly anyway) very easy to work with – again, think legos for adults – and my husband and I are REALLY excited to do as much of the work as possible ourselves. Will we need help with things like digging the foundation and pouring the concrete? Yeah, probably. But laying out and putting up the walls, we’ll be all over that, no additional work crew needed (edit: this does not include any close and dearly loved family members who will be conscripted politely requested to help us out here).

Another bonus? The insides of ICF homes are nice and quiet because of the thickness of the walls. This is a particularly good thing for us, because our lot is beside a county highway, and I’m not a big fan of hearing traffic go by 24/7!

Also, not that it’s really a concern in our area, but all that concrete pretty much makes these houses hurricane proof. Hundred-mile-an-hour winds? Not a problem, these walls will stay standin’. The Third Little Piggy would approve.

The Husband: “Nice post! Though I don’t know if it will convince all the unbelievers — like your uncle [he’s a carpenter]. He thinks that building with anything other than sticks is eccentric and unnecessary and will end in tears. Except you shouldn’t write that because one day he will come across this blog and then I will be in trouble.”