Archive Monthly Archives: September 2015

Before and After Photos

September 25, 2015

On September 15, 2010 we signed escrow papers to buy a 3-bedroom 2-bathroom Bungalow in Santa Cruz, California. "She's got good bones," said our real estate agent, Gary Ransone. He was enthusiastic about this property and we trusted him. He is not a typical real estate agent because he is also a licensed general contractor and a construction attorney. During the two years we've worked with him he talked us out of many properties because he saw red flags we didn't. Still, having been outbid three times prior to this we weary of getting our hopes up too high. This was at the bottom of the real estate market and investors flush with cash came out of the woodwork and snatched up properties left and right. In retrospect we are glad that we didn't get any of the the other places. You see Midori, as we named her, was perfect. Located in a convenient walkable location with a large sunny backyard, Midori was in a perfect state for a gut remodel -- knob and tube wiring, no insulation, single pane windows, and many other characteristics of an old house in a state of lovely perfect decay.

Designing the remodel took one year and construction took another year. I've been re-living the design and construction process as I write the book on this amazing journey. We learned a lot about building science and construction. We met many people who generously shared their knowledge with us. We were very fortunate to work with Graham Irwin, a brilliant architect and passive house consultant. Although there were no experienced passive house builders in our area Taylor Darling of Santa Cruz Green Builders more than met the challenge. Midori uses 80% less energy than before and it feels comfortable and healthy inside. The unexpected benefit of this remodel project was learning to work side by side with my husband, Kurt, to manage the project and to make decisions together. I've gained appreciation of his work style and I respect his nature of driving tasks to closure. Since we've never worked together professionally it was a pleasant surprise to find our complementary skills fitting together nicely. 

If you would like to know more about our story of transforming a 90-year old house to be super energy efficient while retaining the classic charm of a bungalow, sign up for the mailing list. I will let you know when the book is available.

Here are some before and after photos.​

Before: Front of the house 

After: Front of the house

Before: Back of the house

After: Back of the house

Before: Living Room

After: Living Room

Before: Kitchen

After: Kitchen

Urbanite – Concrete Re-Use

September 18, 2015

This post is not about a person who lives in a city. The other definition of urbanite is the broken pieces of concrete left over from a demolition project and we have lots of those. The tower of broken pieces of concrete in the photo above came from our old driveway and detached garage foundation. It currently serve as a playground and launching point for neighborhood cats to jump up to the back fence. In the past two years we've made good use of these in both the back and front yards.   

In the front yard urbanite pieces were stacked along the sidewalk to give a sense of boundary.  The low wall is intentionally kept at a height between the ankle and the calf to make the front yard feel open.  We heard that stacking the urbanites just two high makes it an awkward height for people to sit on the wall. Silver thyme was planted in between the urbanite pieces. We're pleased that they thrive despite the lack of water. 

Low Wall To Separate Sidewalk and Front Yard

In the back yard the urbanites were stacked three high to create a garden bed for growing veggies. Behind the large sunflowers in the front yard is a patio area with elfin thyme as the ground cover filling the space between urbanites. We also have urbanites used as stepping stones to create a walking path leading up to the gate.

Urbanite Garden Bed Next to Apple Tree

Patio Area with Urbanite and Elfin Thyme

Urbanite as Stepping Stone to the Gate

It takes a lot of energy to heat the limestones at a very high temperature for a long period of time to make cement, the basic ingredient of concrete. When the structure made of concrete is at the end of life it's best to re-use the broken up pieces for some other purpose. Concrete can be recycled and there is cost associated with dropping them off at our local resource recovery facility. They charge $15 per yard or $32 per ton. No wonder people are happy to offer the urbanites for free! Just look on Craigslist to see listings for free urbanites.  

Building Carbon Zero California

September 11, 2015

Mark your calendar and get your tickets for the 2015 “Building Carbon Zero California” event hosted by Passive House California (PHCA). The fourth in a series, the event also serves as PHCA’s annual conference. In addition to large group presentations and panel discussions, break-out sessions follow one of two tracks: Carbon, Efficiency + PV and Retrofits and Large Passive House. More than 17 respected and renowned experts will share how increasing energy efficiency while reducing carbon emissions is being addressed both here and across the continent.

An expo during the event features a variety of companies that provide some of today’s most advanced materials, technologies and equipment used to achieve high-performance buildings.

Friday, November 13, 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Lucie Stern Community Center

1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto

Bike tour of high-performance projects, Saturday, November 14, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

For a complete list of speakers, sponsors, conference schedule and to purchase tickets visit Early bird pricing ends September 30.

After A Green Smoothie

September 4, 2015

A friend introduced me to green smoothies about 6 years ago. It's a great way to enjoy fruits and veggies in a drink and I like sipping it for breakfast or for a late afternoon snack.  After following recipes for a while I started experimenting with different fruits and vegetables in season.  My favorite during the summer is a blend of peach, pear, celery, parsley, kale, and ginger.  Just cut them up, place it in a blender with some water, and let it blend to the consistency of your choice. Yum!

After enjoying the smoothie the task of cleaning the blender remains. Chunky film of green stuff clings to the inside of the blender and a thought crossed my mind: I wonder if I can use this for something? The trimmings from the veggies and fruits went to compost and will eventually feed the tomato and other plants. Soil is the recycling system for nutrients and organic wastes and it's also a medium for plant growth.  What if I just fed the smoothie washing water to the tomatoes directly? Hmm... 

So I did.  Filling up the blender with water and swirling it to dislodge the smoothie sludge​ from the inside of the blender I took this smoothie washing water and fed it to the tomatoes.  Tomato plants seemed to like it, meaning they didn't die and the fruits tasted pretty darn good.  So I kept up this practice. Earlier this summer I started feeding the smoothie washing water to the blueberry bushes after hearing that they like acidic soil.  They seem to like it too.

Technically this is black water since it would normally go down the kitchen sink and waste water from the kitchen is considered black water. In nature the content of the green smoothie (veggies and fruits) would go back into the soil so I figured it's OK to feed it to the plants. Although I know many people using water from vegetable washing to water the plants in drought stricken California, you should consult appropriate sources to decide whether this is right for you.

Washing Out Blender

Water Edible Plants

Happy Blueberries!