Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Volatile Organic Compounds

One of Brendon’s BFFs arrived into town late Saturday night. Marty is a friend from Brendon’s early 20s and now that he lives in Quebec and Brendon in Vancouver, the two rarely have the chance to spend time together. We made the decision to bring him out here and help with the house project for a week. Marty has been working as a carpenter’s assistant over the last year and since he is between contracts he was happy to lend a hand and get his hands dirty. One of the benefits of maxing out a credit card (temporarily Dad, I promise) is that you get a lot of air mile points and can fly folks in for back-up.

Marty has been great so far. He’s helped us finish up the painting and gotten us started on the window and door casings as well as the hardwood flooring. The painting has been a pretty interesting experience on its own. The last time I seriously put a roller in my hand was when I was in university and I painted my room blue and gold. At that time I remember having to vacate the house for a day to let the fumes escape. What is amazing is that just 10 years ago, paints with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were the only option and the environmental and human health impacts were considered par for the course. This time around, every store I visited offered a ‘no’ or ‘low’ VOC option at a price point that wasn’t prohibitive. Benjamin Moore went as far as documenting the ‘parts per million’ of chemical compounds that each of their seven lines released. In the end it was because of their level of knowledge and wider selection that I opted to go with them.

For those that are new to the term VOC there is a great article in Treehugger that explains it all really well. Here’s an excerpt:

Traditional household paints contain many chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are a large group of carbon-based chemicals that are volatile, meaning that they like to exist as a gas. The type and amount of VOCs in a household paint generally varies with the type and brand of paint, but traditional household paints generally contain many VOCs, including benzene, formaldehyde, and toluene. Some of these VOCs have been linked in scientific studies to bad health outcomes, including eye, nose and throat irritation, nausea, headaches, and even cancer.

Because VOCs are volatile, they can “off-gas” from the walls into the air as the paint is applied or as it dries. This, combined with the fact that the paint is usually applied to a large area, can cause people living or spending time in these freshly painted homes to have exposures to VOCs that are much greater than normal – as much as 1000 times greater.

The result of our painting extravaganza was that for the first time ever I painted a home without once smelling any fumes or getting a headache!

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for my life living with two boys. There is something that happens when two adult men who first bonded in their early years get together. Suddenly the toilet seat goes up, the bathroom doors are left open, and there is a lot of off-gassing... Since I didn’t grow up surrounded by boys, this is throwing me for a loop. Yesterday, to escape, I went as far as to lock myself away in the bedroom and stream the latest episode of the Bachelor.  I’m hoping that this is the extent of my decline into fluffy girl reality TV.  I’ll know it’s over once I find myself watching (and crying) over the Biggest Loser.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Prime to fight

My friend Lindsay suggested that the Home Depot should have couples counseling available at their exits. She's not kidding. I would not be surprised to hear that many relationships ended at the checkout counter in the big box store. It's amazing how many things there are to argue about. Brendon and I spent almost 10 minutes debating what length of extender we should buy for our paint brushes. Add another 5 minutes for the argument about what products we should use for our window casing and then wrap it up with a fiery fight about lighting.

Luckily, we were more productive this weekend priming our walls and ceilings. Next step - add colour....I can feel another argument coming.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Looming potential to screw-up our home

[Steven's first visit]

Some people might look at the picture above of our beautifully drywalled interior and see a blank canvas - a metaphor for endless possiblities an allegory for new beginnings...or maybe that's just me.

On Friday, Brendon and I will be given the keys to our home and with that the green light to 'create' our living space. I've had many dreams about this day and have excitedly looked forward to learning (with Brendon) how to install floors, match paint colours, tile a bathroom, source kitchen cabinets and find green products. But more recently I've been having nightmares about it. Last night I dreamed that a Peruvian supermodel was trying to kill me. She was chasing me from island to island in a world that closely resembled a cross between the board game Settlers of Catan and the set of Lost. Now I won't begin to attempt analysis of what this means but I do know that part of my stress is that Brendon and I aren't what you might call handy. Artsy - yes. Creative - for sure. But technically adept and knowledgeable in home renos we are not.

Now don't get me wrong. We've done a lot of research and we can fake our way through a conversation, but the truth is that 90% of what we'll be doing over the next two months we have never done before. From now until mid-March Brendon and I will be tackling the following:
1. Installation of hardwood flooring
2. Tiling the bathroom and sourcing the vanity.
3. Sourcing and installing kitchen cabinets, countertops and appliances.
4. Painting all of the interior walls and ceilings.
5. Putting casing around all of the windows and doors.
6. Buying lighting fixtures

We are inheriting a shell that has been drywalled and wired. We're also starting out with words of encouragement and support from the team at Smallworks. To stave off future dreams with latin assasins, the next thing we have to do is to reach out to people like you for help. Do you love home renos? Are you experienced in handy home projects? Have you been itching to get involved? We are recruiting helpers of all kinds and if you can spare a day or two we would be eternally grateful. If you want to help us NOT screw-up our home send us an email or post a comment letting us know what you'd like to do.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The garbage truck war

If you live in the neighbourhood, just the title of this post may conjure up images of your own battle with the municipal waste removal authorities. If you're from afar you probably have no concept of the depth of conflict we experience with our garbage.

It started almost two years ago when we first began to explore this idea of building a mini home. Barb and Roger's property is cornered by two laneways and the garbage truck uses these back alleys to collect our waste. In order to build on the site Barb and Roger had to sacrifice a wedge of their yard to the city. For 18 years the garbage trucks have been able to manoeuvre the corner successfully, yet an improvement like a laneway home suddenly triggered a need for a bigger turning radius. After many phone calls back and forth with the city and the unleashing of the tenacious Barbara Purdy, we were able to negotiate a setback of five feet rather than ten.

Then the fence came down and the building began. You know how they say "Good fences make good neighbours."? Well, I now totally understand the importance of delineating the separation between 'mine' and 'yours'. Since the building has begun, the weekly garbage removal has generated significant anxiety in our household. This angst used to be limited to whether or not we'd see our blue box intact at the end of the day. But that has now grown to more significant worries like - will the truck tear off our roof as it turns the corner?

It happened for the first time in early December and by New Years day the truck hit again. It took a sharp turn onto our property and hit the roof. It tore off some of the cedar under-siding and made a big dent in the roof. The City is responsible for fixing this but in the meantime we need to come up with a plan.

Other neigbours have cemented steal poles that stick up out of the ground five fee high. The garbage trucks still hit them but it at least it saves them damage to their backyards.

While we know the pole would be effective, we're less excited about the look especially since it will be right by our front door. Instead we're exploring getting an old bollard from a ship yard. This would have been used to tie up cruise ships. They are huge, heavy and (if I do say so myself) quite attractive barriers. That said, this permanent fix may still be a few months away so any ideas on what we can do temporarily in the meantime would be very welcome!

January 12th, 2011 - We've found a 'crappy' temporary solution. We've moved the outhouse to the corner of the property.