Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city.

Category: Eco-Living (page 1 of 4)

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 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 high 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 (a yellow-y beige reminiscent of grease trapped in the grill of your stove vent).

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.


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.

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:

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):

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.

Fire in the burn pot of the pellet stove!

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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Sunlight through the roof to light your home

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: bring natural light indoors by installing 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.

The play-by-play

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.

The result

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

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