Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city is hip and urban – and you can, too.

Category: Eco-Living (page 2 of 4)

Installing an environmentally friendly wood pellet stove

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).

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 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.

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 (“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.

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

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.

Pellet stove fire
Fire in the burn pot of the pellet stove!

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!

Conserving energy when doing the laundry

I’ve long used the clothesline to dry my laundry out in the sun and fresh air. Unlike some other people, I don’t give a flip if somebody thinks I’m poor. But for those who have no idea the cost of drying their clothes: the annual average of running a dryer is a calculated $160 across a few websites, some of which might be linked in this post. That’s 1600% more than what it cost these folks to build and install a clothesline.

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.

But if that doesn’t persuade you, and you don’t know the other options are out there, check out this blog post on the Green Home Building Advisor website. When I moved to Denmark, I was exposed to some of these options that I didn’t know existed for drying ones’ clothes.

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.

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.

Continue reading

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 (now the RénoVert tax credit, good through 2019). 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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