Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city.

Category: Eco-Living (page 1 of 4)

How cracks in my asphalt driveway revolutionized my life

If you’ve been to this blog or my Facebook page at least once before, you’ve probably seen photos of my green driveway. They’re all over the place, like in the video here. And yet every year, just like several years before I put it in, some contractor dude who’s thinking “that ain’t right!” drops by with a card to “fix” it. (I can’t blame him for pounding the pavement looking for clients, but still…).

Sometimes he even jots a quote on the back as to how much it would cost me to rip out my green driveway and put down some blacktop asphalt driveway. You know, my green driveway cost a little more than what he’s quoting, because it was kinda fancy underneath, but I won’t have to “repair” the crack every five years like he wants me to. No, thank you.

I used to have an asphalt driveway. About the only thing you can do on an asphalt or concrete driveway that you can’t do on mine is play basketball. And maybe make chalk drawings, but you know, the city sidewalk’s right there, so that’s no biggie.

See, for a long time I had cracks in the driveway where plants would grow. That’s why they’d wanna “repair” it. But why would I let that bother me? Water percolating into the soil and being taken up by plants actually cools the air through transpiration.

“But frost heaves!” – it’s a driveway, not a highway; a little bump from a crack is not a problem.

“But bigger cracks!” More plants!

Why would I want black top + hot sun make my driveway and home hotter, rather than something cooling it down? Besides, when the plants were growing in the cracks in my driveway, guess what the bunnies’ favourite outdoor snacks were?

That’s right – Continue reading

Climbing vines on the shady side 

My house is almost famous for the green wall of vines I have growing on it – which you can see in the banner of our Facebook page. Of all the neighbours, the only others who have vines are those on the end on a row, with a big wall to cover.

My Virginia creeper is now about six years old, and for two years, I also  let one climb out back, on the  shady eastern side. At the same time, I nabbed a real ivy plant and planted it in the same place, but I suspect that Virginia creeper inhibits other plants, as it failed to thrive.

This year, out back, I dug out the creeper and planted a climbing hydrangea in its place, as I wanted the flowers, and a climber that thrived in the shade. Little did I know, but it also released the ivy, which has since taken off.

It’s inspiring me for next year, where I’m going to remove the creeper from the front of my house (except the garage wall) and plant ivy in its place, because it spreads nicely and is less rambunctious.

It is not true that climbing plants damage your bricks. They help shade your home so that it’s cooler, they look nice, and they also give wild birds a place to hang out, and berries and insects to eat. (I’ve had no problem with insects, other than fruit flies that go after my composter.)

Installing an environmentally friendly wood pellet stove insert

Don’t you just love curling up by a crackling fire on a cold winter’s eve? Lord knows, I do – just as much as in summer, because I love camping! So when I bought my home in late 2005, I had a list of wishes and needs, and a fireplace was right up there in the “needs” section.

Indeed, most homes have one, because along with having a full-sized kitchen or a second bathroom, a fireplace or woodstoves is one of the most common requirements. I wonder if this is true everywhere, and not just in an area where, if your main source of heat fails, you need a backup.

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 little fire:

As soon as I got the keys, though, my first order of business was to paint that room something other than the colour of crud (that yellow-y beige, reminiscent of grease trapped in the grill of your stove vent).

terra cotta tile surround

The next incarnation, once furniture moved in

About a year after that, I didn’t like the terracotta tile surround of the fireplace anymore, so I painted it white. What a difference it made! It brightened up that corner of the room (you’ll see a pic later down this post).

But alas, I rarely used the fireplace, because as every homeowner learns, they are an exit to the outdoors through which all your heat escapes. The glass doors on a fireplace limit that loss in a very minimal way; in fact I hung a blanket across the fireplace when it was really cold. Fires were basically for the fall and spring. In fact, I still have some of the firewood left to me by the previous owner, which I’m saving up for backyard firepits with friends.

Fireplace fire

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

Pellet stoves: an ecologically sound replacement

So I replaced 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. The law is now revised, so that fuel type is not important if the emissions certification protects air quality.

I prefer solid wood as fuel, because to have local private forests, we need to value them. The best way to value them on private land, after the joy of owning a forest of course, is to have woodlots. Firewood comes from dropped deadwood and selective logging. Cutting a small percentage of a forest every year (around 3%) is sustainable and generally not considered harmful for an ecosystem (considering every tree on a case by case basis). Now what happens if we don’t value firewood? We will lose our forests as landowners transform them into something more “profitable.”

Still, I decided on a pellet stove (pellets are compressed sawdust from the milling process). I did my research, acquired 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.

pellet stove with fire tile surround

Here’s where you can see the painted white tile surround of the fireplace.

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

pellet stove with fire

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

tile surround wood stove

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 three to four days, lounging in the TV den/office space for about 4 hours per night (a bag is about 12 hours of burn). At around $5 a bag, this is an inexpensive way to be warm, comfortable, and happy (the Danes have one word for all three: hyggelige) on a cold night.

Pellet stove fire

Fire in the burn pot of the pellet stove!

If you enjoyed this post, I wrote SO MANY eco-renovation posts when my interests were also based around DIY and professional renovations. That’s not so much the focus, now – I decided to root down in the niche of biodiversity landscaping – so I didn’t blog about the great kitchen renovation I did in March of 2018. If I’d had a newsletter at the time, though, I surely would have blurbed it with a share to my Instagram pics.

Any DIY that results in eco-living is still good for the newsletter, so please sign up. Ask a question if you’d like!

Eco-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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