Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city.

Category: Eco-Living (page 1 of 3)

Installing an environmentally friendly wood stove insert

Everyone likes curling up by a crackling fire, whether camping in summer or on a winter’s eve. When I purchased my home in late 2005, I had a list of wishes and needs, and having a fireplace was up there in the “needs” section. In fact, most homes have fireplaces or stoves because this need, or wish, is one of the most common requirements, right up there with having a full-sized kitchen, or a second bathroom.

So this photo, taken directly from the MLS listing I first saw, was what my fireplace first looked like:

The first night we came over to see the house after getting the keys, we lit this fire:

After that, though, the room had to be painted something other than that horrid colour of crud. The next incarnation:

…which later, I painted the terracotta tile surround of the fireplace white as well. This didn’t need to be removed when I replaced the stove, so as you scroll through this post, you’ll see it.

A 2013-dated picture of a  fire, simply because FIRE!

And a picture of fire in the burn pot of the pellet stove!

Pellet stoves: an ecologically sound replacement

Given that fireplaces are a huge loss of heat in a home, I rarely used the fireplace. In fact, I still have some of the firewood that I had when I first moved in! So, I decided to replace my cold and drafty fireplace with a wood burning insert. Before Montreal enacted the 2013 anti-fireplace law (controversial, for good reason),  I wanted to install an EPA-certified stove insert. But at the time, the city disallowed  solid fuel stoves and masonry heaters (now revised, so that fuel type is not important if  the emissions certification protects air quality), so I went for a pellet insert.

I prefer solid wood as fuel, because to value and have local private forests, we need to have woodlots. Firewood comes from dropped deadwood and selective logging, and cutting a small percentage of a forest every year is sustainable and not harmful for an ecosystem. If we don’t value firewood, we will lose our forests as landowners transform them into something more “profitable.”

Decision made, I went about doing my research and acquiring the permit, and bought the Harmon P35i pellet stove insert. It heats up to 900 square feet, which is enough to make my TV den / home office nice and toasty. Foyers Lambert did the job in late fall, 2014, and we installed the tile surround on the floor in the spring of 2015.

This is how I enjoyed my new fireplace in the winter of 2015:

This is how it looked with the new floor installed (the floor is important; insurance policies require 18 inches of tile or fireproof flooring in front of the hearth):

And this post’s cover photo is how I enjoy the pellet stove in the winter, as of 2016 (in 2017, I added a beanbag to meditate and lounge in front of the fire).

I buy my pellets at Reno Depot, and a bag lasts me about a week, lounging in the TV den/office space for about 2-3 hours per night. At often less than $5 a bag, this is an economical way to be warm, comfortable, and happy (the Danes have one word for all three: hyggelige) on a cold night.

Fall to Spring renovations at the Homestead

As the fall harvest was winding down with frozen vegetables (no pickling this year) and seed preparation, my efforts returned to Green4r, the renovation project consultancy I felt was needed (and I’m still “validating” the service, which means finding out what people want and when). Green4r (Edit, 2017: now Rewilding) is basically about the same philosophy as this blog: if you’ve got space (and if you live in a dwelling, you usually do), use it to

  • produce some of your own food,
  • recreate space that the natural world can “take back,”
  • impact the natural world less by conserving the resources you use,
  • and to protect your abode and your investment in it by enhancing its quality, durability, and appeal.

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Installing a solar tunnel

In November I blogged about changing the lighting in my home, removing recessed lighting from a place it shouldn’t have been (pot lights should not recess into an attic; it is an energy waste and a fire hazard), and moving it to where it was needed (downstairs). All of this was to prepare for something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: install a solar tunnel!

After getting our permit approval – which we needed, but did not have to send to “study” because it would not affect the appearance of the house from the street – I ordered the solar tunnels from Velux through my chosen installer.

We were really lucky on the late December day when the installer could finally make it. The weather was unseasonably warm. Installing a solar tunnel involves cutting a big hole in the roof and in the ceiling to install the lens and the diffuser, then the tunnels (since I was installing two), and then the light fixtures on the inside. I bought a light kit for each of them, so they would be connected to the light switch for use at night. I also bought the energy kit to make them eligible for the EcoRenov tax credit. This energy kit installs an extra thermal break so that cold is not conducted down into your living space.

For the work, you need two skilled workers: one in your attic, one on your roof, fitting together the couplings that will seal the unit and keep water out.

Two workman getting ready to install the tunnel

Installing the couplings for the solar tunnel

Tunnel installed with the light kit

“Do not insert into totally enclosed luminaires!” But I did, because the volume of this enclosure is quite large and generally cool.

Afterward, this was the light that brightened a formerly dark stairwell, previously illuminated only by electricity and open doors :


A view of the pendulum lamp above the landing, with the full light of the winter sun filling the space formerly illuminated only by electricity and open doors


Next step: the electrician comes back, removes this last recessed light, and connects the lighting kit so that the lightbulb inside the solar tunnel is connected to the switch.

And in the bathroom, where I’d previously blogged about removing the light fixtures:

Solar tunnel, fully illuminated by day

With the lighting on at night.

Finally, a picture of the central stair column of my house by day, with all the bedroom doors closed, a condition by which the upstairs was rendered very dark and dim before this project was finally done.


The solar tunnels immediately made a big difference in my quality of life in this part of my home. The next steps were to fill in the last holes of removed light fixtures and paint them over. A full bathroom painting updated the look, so here is the last photo:

After: bathroom updated and painted

Changing the lighting – a renovation to conserve energy

When I came up with the idea for Green4r | V3rt [now Rewilding], I wanted to learn the business by doing it for myself. I identified a bunch of green projects, put them into a table, and identified the priorities based on how they connected to each other, like so:

One of the first projects that I could get off the ground was changing the lighting – and it was a lot of changes. Here is one reason it was so necessary:

Though it may not be obvious, that is a recessed lighting pot, with a junction box attached to it

Recessed lighting, so beloved by designers and normal humans alike, should not be put into a ceiling that goes into the attic or space below the roof. It might look nice, but the fact is, you’re creating a hole 5″ in diameter through which all the heat escapes. As heat rises, you’re pulling air in from below, which means you are paying to heat fresh air that must come in from the outside.

My attic has 11 rows of batts, which I will double, to take my attic insulation from R-20 to R-40 or R-50.

Not only that, but unless you had put in a fireproof box surrounding that lighting pot – not many people have done this (it only marginally reduces the escape of heat from your home) – you are putting yourself at risk of an electrical fire in your attic, because like the picture demonstrates, the insulation bats were layered on top. The dark staining that you see on the Fiberglass Pink is where the batt has acted like an air filter. It gets dirty. Fibreglass is slow to catch fire, but it can if things melt down due to heat or sparks fly out due to damage.

One of my priority projects was to remove the seven recessed lights in my attic ceiling, and cut down on those drafts. Three were in the foyer ceiling (pictured below), and four in the bathroom.

The third lighting unit is somewhat obscured by the chandelier

Two removed from the bathroom – with a slot cut for fishing a wire through to a new place for a sconce light

I moved these recessed lights down to my finished basement, which was dreadfully dim, with only one recessed light and a couple of sconces. But first: I finally found some sconces I liked, at ReStore, the store for recycling home renovation materials and decor.

A bad pic, but they are fancy!

Here are some pics of the basement now that I moved five recessed lights down there (there are now six). How dim it was before the change! Although I had two table lamps and two desk lamps that kept things cozy and functional.

The pendulum lamp above my couch is a kitschy red light. My basement is due for a declutter.

The two sconces – they are on a separate switch from the recessed lights

The sconce with the new light above the fireplace

Meanwhile, upstairs, I patched over the holes in the ceiling. I also installed a new sconce in the bathroom, and temporarily installed some old track lighting with the fixtures I want to keep, while I wait to get started with the solar tunnel project. That will be happening in December.

The holes in the ceiling, patched (but not painted yet), and the new sconce, which is connected to the ventilation switch. It more brightly illuminates the shower and the toilet.

 

Carbon dioxide – CO2 – stop that right now

No, I don’t mean stop breathing. I mean stop being a producer of CO2. This post isn’t about how, though; it’s about why.

I had the idea a while ago to do a carbon footprint blog post to illustrate what we must do to protect ourselves, and ward off, if only in very small ways, the local effects of dangerous climate change. So this blog post is just bit about what that is, the crazy complex issues that surround it, and what is in store if we just stick our heads in the sand. And I am writing this blog post off the cuff, giving a lot of information that might better prepare you to take it in when I come back to me-and-my-house, and my biz, and why taking green action is not only awesome, it’s doable.  Get ready to activate several browser windows, save some files, and maybe 45 minutes of your time. Sorry I can’t spoon feed this, but learning is good for you and confusion makes you ask questions, right?

In 2010, I gave this presentation to a management class at McGill. It will be helpful to read as part of this blog post. It is a terse, 33 slide powerpoint that also went into transparency land, where I explained basic molecular chemistry of atmospheric gases (N2, NOx, CO, CO2, O2, O3, CH4, and then a few more complicated ones), and drew the carbon cycle straight out of a text book from 1992, the year of Rio and the Kyoto Protocol, the year where our carbon dioxide output into the atmosphere was at its last point of being able to be equally taken up again by our oceans and forests. That was at 350 parts per million – 350 molecules of CO2 per million molecules of atmospheric gasses.

Segue: There is a grassroots activist/advocacy group called 350.org doing some of the important work that needs to be done to protect this beautiful blue and green planet of ours, and the atmosphere it breathes. The Climate Reality Project and the Rocky Mountain Institute are two other strong workers on this issue; the Climate Reality Project is focusing on getting carbon pollution reduced and eliminated in various ways, including the no-brainer market mechanism of putting a price on it (I particularly like that they want to protect snow, one of my favourite things, and that they shame climate deniers). RMI focuses its efforts on new energy and energy efficiency. Two of RMI’s founders, Amory and Hunter Lovins, contributed (I believe, perhaps they were just cited many times in the lengthy bibliography) to Lester Brown’s book Plan B 3.0, and presumably its predecessor, Plan B 2.0. If you want to read this book, I will gladly e-mail you a pdf for your tablet or computer; it has a license to distribute freely. 

Back to ppm: The conservative (meaning we can be Pollyannas until we get there) estimate of dangerous CO2 in the atmosphere is 450 ppm, but we are not there yet and we already see the effects that have been predicted. Moreover, CH4, NOx, and some other gases released as pollution and thawing permafrost act stronger than CO2 as greenhouse gasses. It is up to the IPCC to conclusively say, but I have read enough news that it seems plain to everyone that we have triggered the feedbacks. We don’t know how far the feedbacks will go, and they can become very, very severe. If you want to know how severe they could go, I do mention the worst-case in presentation linked above. You can also read Climate Wars by Gwynne Dyer, a writer who specializes in military and international affairs. It’s the military’s job to know all about the insecurity scenarios of the world, and while the scientists of the world have been quietly freaking out for a couple of decades now, the army has been, too.

Only the billionaires rejoice, because destruction pays, and who pays better than a demoralized, angry public? Frankly, these billionaires should be liquidating their bank accounts to solve this problem. Those that don’t, deserve no mercy when disaster and the insurgency comes. Yes, I said it. That’s why they’ve already set their security up. They wouldn’t need to, if they did the right thing and fixed what they broke.

So just as one student asked when I was done giving that presentation, what is it that I, just one person can do, to help with such a monumental task?

I have two things: 1) Measure your carbon footprint and take steps to reduce it (link is to an excellent recent article on GreenBiz.com).  I will discuss this further with my next blog post. And 2) read my follow up presentation on 10 Things You Can Do, and take any or all of its recommendations to heart.

I’m sorry if your head hurts now, after that powerpoint presentation and visiting the worthy websites linked here. Mine does too, a bit.

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