My house is almost famous for the green wall of vines I have growing on it – which you can see in on 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.
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 woodstove 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).
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 and didn’t light any fires at all. 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 campfires with friends.
Pellet stoves: an ecologically sound replacement
So I replaced my cold and drafty fireplace with a wood burning insert (“insert” means putting a stove…into a fireplace!) 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.
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):
This post’s cover photo (wayyyyy up ^) 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 at Rona on St. Patrick, 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 $5.75 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.
There’s a call to action…
If you aren’t in the financial position yet to upgrade your fireplace, there’s something really awesome you can do for nature. Come spring, inspect and clean your chimney and prepare it for welcoming chimney swifts. They need urban habitat! Unfortunately, woodstoves use metal pipes to line the chimneys – unless you choose a different egress for the smoke, little that it is (up to 90% less than traditional fires). Swifts can’t cling and build their nests in metal pipes; they need masonry towers.
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. But if I’d had a newsletter at the time, I’d 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!
I installed my “clothesline elevator” when I first moved in, right at my back door, close to the laundry room. It is a device that raises and lowers the pulley by about a meter, so that the laundry hangs overhead and not dragging on the ground. My back door is at a lower elevation than the rest of the backyard.
When I shortened my deck in September, the 2×4 that I used to suspend the other end of the clothesline’s pulley came crashing down. The 4 screws that held it in place were leaving scrappy holes in the fencepost from all that tension. I decided to save the fence and find a new place to install the pulley’s 2×4, but the only other place I found made for a shorter clothesline. So, loathe to cut the line without having considered all my options, I took the clothesline down for the winter.
But then I saw a good suggestion for hanging a clothesline indoors: a clever $5 clothesline that anyone, and I mean anyone, could put up in their apartment, so you could dry your clothes any time of year (except when the weather’s too humid). I found I had the right kind and length of rope in my camping supplies. It requires eyelet screws to run a rope through, and a cleat to attach the rope to. Because you’ll run the rope every time you need to dry a load, and so you’ll tie it to the cleat; when you’re done, you’ll put the rope away.
Upon further research, though, I don’t need to install a temporary clothesline. My laundry room already has two shower rails to hang clothes from. I also have a clothes drying rack. And this past summer, we had a humid spell that was making my posters and photos curl in my basement, so I acquired an old dehumidifier. It turns out it is the perfect solution for drying clothes indoors on a cool autumn or cold Canadian winter day (it also produces a bit of heat). Here’s why:
Your clothes dryer is literally the biggest energy sucker in your home. After the cost of running baseboard heaters and the refrigerator, your clothes dryer is throwing money out the window when you run it in winter.
When you run a bathroom fan, kitchen fan, or the clothes dryer, you’re venting out hot air and depressurizing your home, which will suck in cold air through the cracks, seams, and openings to the outside. Rather than create a pressure differential and heat the air twice, it makes a lot more sense to use a dehumidifier in the laundry room. It will pull the water out of the clothes you’ve put out to dry. The heat of the unit will be welcome.
Already, electric heat is drying, so I don’t run the fan in the bathroom for showers – I crack the bathroom door to vent the humidity to the house. (You could hang your wet clothes around for the same purpose… but if you do so, please do it neatly, like the $5 clothes line, above.)
I’ve already started using the dehumidifier in my laundry room. I’m impressed with the speed of fabric drying time, and the state of my slow-drying towels. They, and sheets too, don’t dry stiff.
My dryer is about 20 years old and brags that it uses 111 kWh per month. Hardly an EnergyStar. I don’t know the rating on the dehumidifier, but it’s surely lower than that by far.
I can use the distilled water in the reservoir for the clothes iron, my pets’ water bottles, or for watering the houseplants.
If passive houses – which is what I’d love my home to be – were found here in North America more often, we may have an easier time installing some of their technology into standard homes.
I’d love to get a thermographic scan of my house, and upgrade the insulation – particularly in my brown/green bedroom, where the outside wall is siding and not brick, and it has building wrap/insulation/vapour barrier issues. It’s way too hot in summer and too cold in winter, and the closet is the part that overhangs my front step, so it’s cold on 3 sides. I sense this could be an expensive one to fix. If it brings me closer to an energy efficiency that pays off, it’s a tool for my entrepreneurial wish to help other homeowners lower their environmental impact, too.
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.
This is a long-running “lifestyle” blog about the pleasures of living like a farm kid in an urban context. You’ll find a wide range of topics that pertain to food, crafts, energy efficiency, and DIY. There’s a big focus on ecology and wildlife because this has brought me a lot joy – but this is also the greatest potential we have of restoring some balance to nature where we live.
Given that, I’ve turned my attention to providing more content for people to switch traditional lawns over to native landscaping and green driveways and things that will support climate readiness, drought and flood-prevention, and increased habitat for biodiversity. Comments and questions are welcome!
If you’re in the Montreal region, you can also use my “Rewilding” service to landscape your property using native plants, convert to a green driveway, and prevent your windows from killing birds.
My mission is to engage you to appreciate ecological resilience and encourage you to take steps to live closer to the land. I want people to increase the beauty, biodiversity, and climate-change readiness our towns, cities, and regions. That begins with homeowners, small business owners – people who own property. Change the way we typically do things, and we change the world.
If you’re printing any of this blog…
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Header image credit
This is an award-winning advertising image created by Young & Rubicam for Decathlon – “Make Room for Hiking”
Reach me by e-mail at jane at bigcitylittlehomestead.ca or at my social profiles.
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During seasonal work, my details are available by pop-up.