Tag Archives: Home

A Green Burning Fireplace

Who doesn’t love the crackling warmth and coziness of a fireplace? My husband and I put this feature at the top of our list for our new home. We really want a functional outdoor space – a covered screened porch with a fireplace – and an inviting indoor space – a fireplace with cozy couches and a tv above – very exciting! With this desired feature, a question comes to mind – how can this be green and eco-friendly? Burning wood produces smoke and destroys trees? How much will this all cost and is it worth it?

WOOD burning fireplace. Our outside fireplace will be wood-burning (particularly for the smell and ambiance) and here some ways I found that we can make it green. One is to buy local wood or logs made from recycled material – most of these green logs are made from recycled sawdust and natural waxes and actually are available at Walmart! Another is to burn dry hardwoods – dense wood (birch, oak or hickory) produces more heat, less smoke and is more efficient than lightweight wood (pine or fir). Burning damp wood only creates more smoke and less efficiency. The big thing is to not burn garbage or treated wood because it releases toxins and poison into the air.

EcoGreen Fire

There are a couple other alternative fuel options for eco-friendly fireplaces, that we are looking at for indoors:
ETHANOL burning fireplace. Ethanol is an absolute alcohol, produced by the fermentation of sugars originating from agricultural and forestry products; mainly sugarcane, potatoes, bananas, beetroot and recently from cereals such as wheat. Ethanol is an alternative fuel that is not widely available. Most all regular gas stations have a blend of ethanol and gasoline, which would not work for a fireplace. I found an ethanol station locator map on the US DOE website. Unfortunately in my area, ethanol is for private use only. Looks like we’d have to purchase our fuel off the internet or local hardware store, one site I found sells four 1-gallon jugs for $100. According to one of the fireplace websites, which at least gives me a point of reference, it burns about 0.17 gallon of ethanol an hour, or 24 hours of fireplace time. Modern Companies: EcoGreen Fire and EcoSmart Fire

PROPANE burning fireplace. Our land doesn’t have natural gas line, so we’d have to get a propane tank from a local propane company. Propane is clean, non-toxic and emits less carbon dioxide than coal. We’d likely use the propane for the indoor fireplace, the tankless water heater and the outdoor grill. There are several options for a propane tank and the size tank will depend on its usage. The following website shares a good general idea of propane tanks and what you may need to be aware of, such as location of tank vs. truck to fill the tank: Build Your Own Home.

The fireplaces are very important to us because we love a good fireside chat. We’ll be able to enjoy this space with our friends and family, relax after a day of work or on the weekends. Yes, for us, it will all be worth it.


The Deck Turns Green? Oh No!

At our old houseOne of the questionable and most pricey features of our house will be the decking – front and back porches. My husband really wants an enjoyable outdoor space for our family – complete with a fireplace, screened porch and cozy chairs. Sounds perfect to me! Just add lemonade! The question, what type of decking material shall we use? When we first started this process two years ago, I remember the only thing I really wanted was plastic lumber decking – it would last forever, be maintenance-free and it’s made from recycled milk jugs and laundry bottles! What could be better? I even promote plastic decking during my “recycling presentations” at work. Growing up in Virginia, having to stain our wood deck just about every year and then get a splinter in my foot every few weeks, I just knew that I didn’t want wood.

Well, most recently, I’ve heard stories about mold issues coming from the plastic lumber decking (also called composite decking). I did some research and learned that you do have to take care of the decking. What? Oh man – something more to add to the list. I guess nothing is truly maintenance-free in a home. But then again, who wants a moldy, mildewy deck? uhh….nobody!

Read the fine print because composite decking is not “maintenance free” but “low maintenance.” That is a difference! While it is true that you don’t have to paint, stain or sand the deck, you do have to wash it twice a year. Ok, I can handle washing, but unfortunately with mold – it will be hard to kill without harsh chemicals. One of the major manufacturers of composite decking is Trex, which makes decking material out of HDPE plastic from recycled laundry bottles, etc. Sounds positive, right?? However, Trex has been involved in some consumer lawsuits, including one with Hagens-Berman that involves a Washington state homeowner and the Trex product warranty. The one before this was a class-action lawsuit that Trex addresses on its website. One of the major flaws of the product is the entrapment of moisture that causes a terrible mold issue. I am no expert on mold, but I do know that any mold is bad mold. Trex and most other composite decking material may contain up to 50% wood fiber, which makes it susceptible to mold, mildew and insects.

According to the Trex website on technical information: ‘Trex is no exception. Periodic cleaning of Trex decking will remove dirt and pollen that can feed mold. If mold colonies appear, clean the deck with a commercial deck wash containing a detergent and sodium hypochlorite, commonly known as bleach. This chemical will remove the mold, but please be aware it will also lighten the wood on the surface.”

I don’t know about you, but I personally do not want to wash my desk using bleach! The deck is outside and washing it with bleach would only drip and leak to the ground below….???? Right…how green is that? Let’s build a $10,000 deck using recycled milk jugs, save space in the landfill, but kill plant life and harm groundwater resources along the way! Yikes! This is not for me.

So we found some alternatives to the treated wood and to the plastic decking, which we will call Semi-Green Deck Choices, which I found to claim to be better  for these environmental and maintenance issues:

1)      CorrectDeck – the name suggests someone else did it wrong first (cough cough….Trex?) and on their website they claim, “enhanced anti-microbial protection that adds resistance to mold and mildew for ultra-low maintenance.” Well at least its not just low maintenance, it’s ultra-low. Can anyone define that?

2)      Ipe Wood – it comes from Brazil and is considered to be one of the tallest trees in the Amazon. How is it green? Ipe Wood is considered to be eco-friendly lumber because it is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and they monitor the process of how lumber is cultivated and harvested.

3)      TerraTec Natural from McFarland – using rice hulls and recycled plastic. According to this company, rice hulls are naturally resistant to mold, mildew and insects. Sounds great, but this company is in Washington state and won’t ship a sample to South Carolina. Besides, I haven’t seen this product available at our local stores. I’d like to stay local.

4)      Concrete – According to the Cement Association website on LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, concrete is very green. The five ways that concrete is green include: 1) creates sustainable sites, 2) enhances energy performance, 3) contains recycled materials, 4) manufactured locally, and 5) builds durable structures. Also, it is ultra-low-maintenance!

5)   Cascade Replast – Permadeck – Product boats maximum durability, no painting, and no staining. The Canadian website claims it is made from 100% plastic and the New Zealand website claims it is made from both plastic and wood fibers. Which is right? I don’t know! Again, it says that it is relatively maintenance-free that it requires regular cleaning with household cleaners. Regarding mold, the NZ website says, “PERMADECK™ is generally quite resistant to mould, however if it doesn’t have sufficient ventilation or there are areas where pollen can collect and doesn’t get exposure to sun, mould may appear. Mould and mildew may grow on the deck in some circumstances, especially in damp shaded areas, or if it ‘sweats’ under the plastic cover (especially in rain) before installation. Failure to keep packs dry in storage can lead to the growth of mould spores on boards. Clean as per directions under ‘Care and maintenance’.”

So far, we’ve decided to go with concrete for the sustainable reasons, the maintenance reasons and the cost reasons! Just like most people, I am not a fan of cleaning. Less is better for me, so if all I have to do is sweep and/or pressure wash, concrete is the winner for us.

To Be EFL Green

According to our green builder, our new house will be “Certified Green” under the EFL Program!

logo_EFLThe Environments for Living (EFL) program was nationally launched in 2001 to support builders in applying building science and energy-efficient construction practices in the field. Most homebuyers care about operating costs and resale value, but we are also concerned about our environmental impact. The EFL Program looks at the following four categories to make it Certified Green.

1) Energy-Efficiency:

  • Tight construction
  • Improved thermal systems
  • Right-Sized HVAC
  • Low-E Windows
  • Energy-Efficient Lighting
  • Energy-Efficient Appliances

2) Indoor Environmental Quality

  • Fresh Air Ventilation
  • Internal Moisture Management
  • Air Pressure Balancing
  • Combustion Safety
  • Enhanced Filtration System
  • Low VOC Paints
  • Carpet
  • Cabinetry

3) Durability

4) Water Efficiency

  • Low-Flow Faucets
  • Low-Flow Showerheads
  • High-Efficiency Dishwashers
  • High-Efficiency Toilets

Most of these standards are met by builders, but the program adds a certification to the home, which helps in value and efficiency discounts. In addition to the EFL Program, we will be saving money through the electric company in having a Certified Green home.

Getting Green Ideas – Roadtrip!

It was a beautiful fall weekend for a roadtrip with my husband.  We took a trip to visit the Coastal Living Idea House in Southport, NC to get some ideas for our new house.

Coastal Living Idea House 2009

Each year, the Coastal Living Magazine constructs a coastal community house that shares the best in innovation, décor and construction (according to their website). The 2009 Idea House is an original Cape design by Guidry-Coastal Architecture and built by Mark Saunders Luxury Homes in Seawatch. Apparently it is for sale for just $1.2 million, not including the furnishings. Anyone ready to bite on that one? Don’t all raise your hands at once!

Inside the house

Overall, the house was stunning with three floors of rooms, including a unique sleeping porch and a bunkbed hallway. Walking through the lavish house the first time definitely was jaw-dropping. We had to wear those cute blue shoe covers, which was not the easiest with flip-flops.

Blue footies!

Once inside, the entryway was mainly staircases, one up and one down. We started on the main floor, checked out the house bathroom and then on to the laundry room, which smartly connected to the master closet. That is a great idea! I should think about that one! Then through the closet to the master bath and to the master bedroom. The master bedroom was strangely decorated, but impressive.

Master Bedroom

We next went through the main living room, the back decks, the dining room and eventually the kitchen. Interestingly, the kitchen did not have lower cabinets, but it was all drawers – hundreds of them. I don’t think I have enough pots and pans to fill two drawers! One interesting design note was that the lower drawers were a different color than the cabinets above. The kitchen also had an adjorning pantry that was probably the size of my master bathroom! Lots of room for the cereal.


Huge Pantry!

Next we ventured upstairs to the collection of beds. Every room upstairs, including the hallway, had a bed. There were two sets of bunkbeds, a guest bedroom, a sleeping loft with room for four, and another guest bedroom. I think this house could sleep about 12-14 people or more! Talk about a massive sleepover.

The Sleeping Loft

After taking a quick nap upstairs, we made our way downstairs to the recreation room and the enormous garage. They had space for a wine cellar, but they said it was turn into an office instead. Why they bothered to tell us this fact, I don’t know. Of course, I’d rather have a wine cellar for all of my two buck chuck! Then we went outside to see the grill….oh, it’s called the “outdoor kitchen” – and it was a perfect party setting.

Outdoor space

Despite the gorgeous exterior, I was not very fond of the interior because it felt dark, cold and vacant. Just to give you an idea, the names of the paint colors included: prudence, summer gray, muted ebony, almost charcoal, and mountain smoke. There were only a couple of bright rooms that used classic lilac and an orange color called suede. The house was almost disjointed because some rooms felt warm, rustic and cozy (such as the sleeping loft), while other rooms felt cold, modern and rigid (such as the living room).

Living Room

There were several high-priced features that stood out, which included: painted color trim (not white), seagrass flooring, fabric walls, and heated tile floors. None of which we plan to do because we simply didn’t like those features. I also have a toddler and I don’t feel like cleaning the fabric walls from crayon marks.

For example, while seagrass floors are considered eco-friendly because they are durable and from a renewable source, they tend to have a distinct sea odor. Just about every room in the Idea House had seagrass floors and I felt that we walked into the swamp each time. Since this type of flooring is newer to the market, I’m not sure if the odor fades in time. The flooring also come from Southeast Asia, which means they have to be imported and I don’t really consider that green.

Seagrass Flooring

We did leave with a few ideas for our own house. We liked the built-in cabinet around the fireplace that hid the TV. One of the house volunteers also suggested adding drawers to that cabinet to store DVDs and remotes.

Fireplace idea

Fireplace that hides a TV!

We liked the backyard a lot with the setting of the marsh and the man-made babbling brook feature. The walkways surrounding the house were nice because they had flat rocks with small pebbles in between, so water doesn’t get trapped and run-off.

Backyard Water Feature

We also liked the screened porch that had the outdoor curtains. It was a low-key, but fancy feature that was useful for privacy!

Screened Porch with Outdoor Curtains

We spent over two hours at the house, talking about our dream house and getting more excited.


Green with Envy

We have fallen in love!  In this economy, we are keeping all options open.  Just in case building is not the right decision for our finances, we would buy a house.  So we went house-hunting. We saw four properties: one that had construction problems, one that was not the right fit, one we could live with and one that we fell in love with.

The house that we love is probably exactly everything we could ask for in our dream house. It definitely has a “WOW” factor in every room, we wouldn’t have to change a thing. It is the perfect color (green), the perfect setting (under Live Oak trees), the perfect layout (almost), the perfect finishes (wood, tile, fixtures, ceilings), but NOT the perfect size. Actually it is massive for us! This house is about 2700 heated square feet and about 4000 total square feet!

My hubby and I had a heart-to-heart discussion about this house. We listed the pros and the cons. We probably could afford the monthly mortgage, but I worry that it is too much house – in utility bills, cleaning, maintenance, etc. I’d worry that we would stretch ourselves too thin and wouldn’t be able to enjoy anything else. It is also far from our work and Peyton would go to a different school district. This house also would require maintenance in the next few years – painting the siding, a new roof, etc.

Then we thought about what our builder told us.  Start with the smallest home possible and grow from there in your plans. Basically, start with only what you need. The biggest the house, the bigger the bills in the future.

I believe that seeing this house reassured us that building may be our best choice. When you build, you get exactly what you want and how you want it.

Building Green Steps

My blood runs green. I remember always falling in love with animals and the outdoors when I was little. All those elementary school field trips to the nature center were my favorite days. However, I have to confess that I didn’t officially start recycling or being aware of my impact before I got my ‘green’ job. As a county recycling coordinator, it is my job to educate the public about waste reduction and recycling. Most of days are dedicated to guiding tours around the landfill and the recycling facility. I ride a lot of school bus around trash and I have to admit, I love it!

My investment in my career has pushed me into the next phase of my life and my family’s life. My green blood has affected my husband and my daughter into living the green life with me. We do all the basics: recycling, avoiding Styrofoam (except for Chick-fil-a sweet tea), donating and repairing things, and buying less products. But now, we are in a position to build a home. Of course, it is going to be GREEN.

My husband and I have spent hours on the internet researching green features and watching several shows on HGTV and Planet Green. We have a Green Wish List for our new home.

Green Wish List:

  • Metal Roof
  • Grey Water Filtration System
  • Tankless Water Heater OR Geothermal System
  • Solar Panel
  • Recycled Composite Decking
  • Energy Efficient Insulation
  • Items from Salvage Stores (front door, interior doors, light fixtures, cabinet knobs)
  • Low-Flow Toilets and Showerheads
  • Low VOC paint
  • Energy Efficient Appliances
  • Drought-resistant landscaping
  • Rain water collection

With all these features in mind, we also have to consider our budget. Some features are just not realistic in this economy, but we will be trying our best to get some of these.

House Plan