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Farewell

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

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Even though our house was completed over a year ago I have enjoyed continuing to write about construction, design and trying to live a greener life. The experience started as a way for us to track our journey while sharing with others. However, in the process it has become so much more than that.

The exchange of ideas and knowledge I have enjoyed over the past two years has been wonderful. During this time I have made so many contacts and friends. Some have given me their insights while others have asked me to share mine. Many have challenged my thinking or asked me for greater explanation. Out of this has come many long lasting friendships, from my architect Michael Huber who I love sharing my coolest new “modest modern” design ideas and finds with. Modern homeowners Matt and Laura Tills who we would commiserate with as our home projects and lives seemed to mirror each others  as we both struggled through the building process. My buddy Jeff Gallo (from the 5ive house, Minnesota’s first LEED Platinum house) for not only inspiring me “to do more ” green friendly than even I had planned, but for reassuring me that this obsession was a healthy one. And of course  there is a vast array of people from our general contractor (Benedict  and Associates) to the local watershed district, all of whom helped us to make our project a better one.

I have had so many informative and insightful conversations with such a wide range of people from as close as down the street, to as far away as Spain, Germany and South Africa. And so the process, even more than the project has been an incredibly dynamic, rewarding and enlightening experience, far beyond what I ever could have imagined. However, like everything else, it is time that it comes to and end.  My energy and efforts have shifted in the last few months as I work to help grow my company’s business and continue to pursue additional avenues for my passion for green living and modern design.

For now I intend to spend the coming summer working on a few little landscaping projects, adding a rainwater capture container, doing some paintings to fill our walls and taking in the fruits of the past two years of work. I will continue to write my bi-weekly blog for blog.exclusivelyhome.com as well as pursue opportunities around sharing my “modest modern” philosophy via modestmodern.com, which I plan to launch later this year. Some day down the road I plan to build a retirement cabin on our land in Northern Wisconsin, and this time I’d like to try and do something off the grid, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll write a blog about it.

Thanks again to everyone one who has come to these pages and participated in my journey.
Jason Hammond

Picking paint might be harder than painting

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Although, Stacy and I have decided to largely leave our walls white and use artwork to add the color and texture to the rooms, our two young boys were clambering for some color on the walls in their rooms. So after several trips to the home improvement store, dozens of paint swatches taped to the wall and some negotiating we settled on some colors.  You would think that all that was left would be to run to the store, pick-up some paint and put it on the wall. However, picking the paint color was just the start.

One of the often times overlooked elements of building a home that is friendly on the environment, is making sure that the environment of the home is friendly on you. For us this has meant trying to make conscious decisions to select low or No VOC  (Volatile Organic Compound) products. It started with our builder Benedict and Associates and their use of construction adhesives and carried on through to the materials our cabinetmaker Eastvold Custom used to build our cabinet boxes all having this feature. With all this in mind we weren’t about to throw away  all that planning thoughtfulness by using just any paint, especially in our kid’s rooms.

I remember a few years ago when we first began our house project I started seeing ads for a paint called Mythic that featured ZERO VOC. To be honest, at the time I had no idea what VOC’s were, why not having them was good and why I should care. But the paint had a cool looking retro label that caught my attention, and I was compelled enough to visit their website. As it turns out that new home smell that so many people talk about, is actually the off-gassing of VOC’s and cancer-causing toxins that are emitted for years.  So recalling this information, along with the added knowledge we gained while doing the research for our house, we decided that we should make sure we had a paint that was Low or NO VOC. However, when I went to find a retailer of Mythic I was surprised that I could find only two in the Twin Cites, and both were well outside of my reasonable driving range for a gallon or two of paint.  Not to be discouraged, and knowing that some of the other paint manufacturers were aware of the “greening” of America we decided to look around. To our surprise we found a several options from Sherwin William’s, HarmonyBenjamin Moore’s, Natura  and even a very affordable new line from Dutch Boy called Refresh.  Or final decision was to go with the Dutch Boy because it was readily available at our local Menards store just down the road, and on top of that it comes in those great easy to pour, non-rusting containers that Dutch Boy is famous for.

So after all the research and analysis, I have to say that it I was very pleased with our decision to use the NO VOC paint. Because we had several days of painting over the weekend, I would normally  have expect our house to have the strong smell of latex paint in the air, this however, was not the case. We were actually able to quickly pull the boys rooms together once the painted had tried so they could once again sleep in their own rooms without the worry of them waking up feeling sick from the fumes — a not so little thing when you think about.

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Mythic was the first paint I had heard of that featured NO VOC.

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In recently major paint manufacturers like Benjamin Moore have added products like their Natura line  that offer low or NO VOC.

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The Dutch Boy Refresh line of paints is a co-branded product with Arm & Hammer that eliminates paint odors and has No VOC.

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taping off stripes.

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the first stripes are painted.

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After giving the first color the appropriate amount of time to dry we were able to tape over the first color to give us a crisp transition between colors.

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The final finished wall. 

Waste not, want not

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

About ten years ago I was working as a designer/art director for a small company that published interior design trade magazines. Among our various publications We had a small industry magazine dedicated to wall finishes, namely wallpaper. It was, at the time, a dying industry where only the highest-end products in both commercial and residential applications were making any headway or profit for that matter, and it looked as though paint and faux finishes had finally done in the art of applying materials to walls . Fast-forward roughly ten years and both the supply and demand for wall decor has seemingly skyrocketed. However, unlike their existence a decade ago they are now being used more to create accent walls and interest rather than to cover entire rooms.The growing popularity of these wall applications seem to range from the extremely dynamic composite wall panels like those by modulararts, to the paper squares like those made by inhabit and finally the more traditional, but equally as cool strong graphical patterned wallpapers like the work of Nama Rococo.

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The Clif™ wall panels from Modulararts.com

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The SHAN Sangri La wall panels from Inhabit.
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The Sixty-Eight, one of the beautiful patterns from Nama Rococo.

After spending more than a year looking and considering a variety of materials and applications available to us, Stacy suggest that we might be able to create our own wall application with the idea of using some scrap material we had left over from other projects. After talking about what pattern we liked the best and what would be most easy to execute with both the tools and materials we had. We settled on a linear sliding plane pattern that mimicked the design of our house and was relatively easy to execute. Using scrap pieces of MDF in both 1/2″ and 3/4″ thickness we cut them down in to a series of long linear strips and then cut them down to varying lengths. To give it an added layer of dimension we spaced the pieces in a staggered manner and used the wall to create a third plane. Once the wall was covered we filled the cracks and nail holes with paintable caulk and then painted the entire wall bright white.

The results of our little scrap project is a very inexpensive but fairly cool feature wall, that gives our first floor bathroom a sophisticated, mid-century modern meets modern contemporary feel. Because we used scrap material and the paint that we already had for the house our only out of pocket expense was roughly $6 for some decent 1″ paint brushes to get into the little spaces between pieces—a well worth it investment.

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The MDF as we applied it to the wall in various sizes.
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The finished wall.
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A close-up of the wall dimension.

Modern in a lost city

Monday, December 15th, 2008

I have had the pleasure while doing this blog of sharing ideas and solutions with many people who have either done their own similar project or are interested in doing something like it in the future. Of the many people I have met during these various exchanges, one of the most interesting to me was Matt and Laura Tills. The Tills, like us, had recently added to their young family and outgrown their home at the time. Since Matt is an architect they began making plans to design and build their very own modern, green friendly home. Like us the tills were in search of resources to help aid them in the design and selection of the many materials they would ultimately use, and in the process we connected. Over the next, almost two years, we have corresponded back and forth, sometimes with questions for one another and occasionally just to commiserate with someone else who could truly understand the impact of taking on such a project and the impact that it can have on your life. Our connections have become much more random over the last 6 months or so as our projects have come to relative completion and both our families have adjusted to getting settled in. I sent an email to Matt and Laura recently asking to see some current images of their project in it’s completed form and if I could share their project with the readers of my blog, they graciously agreed to do so.

Matt and Laura didn’t do anything of the ordinary kind when it came to building their new home, not even the selection of their land. Although they are located within the city limits of Wisconsin’s Capital of Madison, their property is in what is referred to as the “lost city”, a part of the University of Wisconsin’s Arboretum. The section of land was not fitted with city sewer and they had to work to get the property rezoned to reduce the rear lot line in order to position the house in a place where they could avoid losing some large evergreens in the front yard.  Additionally, their property had the remnants of an old tennis court on it which would eventually serve as the site of their new home.

Matt designed the house with great care to consider the surroundings while introducing forward thinking modern and green friendly design and building practices. The exterior of the house which was constructed of SIPs and clad in steel, Prodema siding and stone seems to sit perfectly among the surrounding trees almost as if it had been their forever. The interior of the home with its carefully placed clearstory and large sections of windows invite sunlight into the space, creating a beautiful glow and blur the lines between interior and exterior spaces. The rich colors of the stained concrete floors are complimented by the beauty of the blonde woodwork and exposed beams of the roof and ceiling. The simple, elegant, modern fixtures that appear in the bathrooms and almost every lighting opportunity, seem to perfectly compliment the lines and form of the homes design. This home is truly an inviting and modern jewel to be discovered, in what was once known as Madison’s lost city.

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Solar energy alternative

Monday, November 10th, 2008

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Determining Site location for the panels.

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This device helps to measure solar viability during peak hours.
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The Kill-A-Watt device helps measure phantom consumption in your home.

With the rising costs of energy putting the pinch on many people’s disposable income, the idea of adding a supplementary energy source (that isn’t tied to the world economy) is very intriguing. This is something that we had originally thought about when our project began but based on some initial research appeared to be financially restricting so we decided against it at the time. Looking back at it, this one of he decisions I wished I would have researched more closely before writing it off. Then this past summer while doing a story on the Eco-Experience at the State fair I met Rebecca Lundberg Owner and President from Powerfully Green. They were featuring a few of the products and services they offer on the Eco-house design and I struck up a short conversation with them about what they offer.

What struck me as most intriguing about Powerfully Green was their consultative approach to solar energy installation. Instead of giving me the typical answers about rising energy costs or guilting me with some environmental responsibility statement they offered solutions to home energy consumption as key. Telling me that one of the services that they do is a site inspection and home energy audit to both assess the viability of solar as an option, but additionally to help the home owners to find ways to reduce their home energy needs. This was something I had not heard of before from the various solar installers I had talked to in the past, so I made arrangements to have an audit done for our house.

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Rebecca and Dan from powerfully green showed up in the later afternoon about a week ago to do the energy audit of our house. This was obviously somewhat different than the one we had done for our EnergyStar rating as it was based on our current needs and consumptions and our potential to off-set those with a solar supplement.

We started by making a trip to the roof of our house where Rebecca and Dan where they did an audit of our site. They started by measuring out the surface area of the roof and all the potential objects (vents etc.) that would be obstacles to work around. Then using a couple of different tools they determined the ideal direction for placement (straight south), and measured the solar potential of the roof during the prime between 9am and 3pm. From there we determined where the system would need to come down off the roof and into the electrical connection to provide service. In our case because we face directly south and have almost no obstructions making or house the ideal setting for both a solar water heating system as well as a photovoltaic solar energy system. After doing the solar site assessment we made our move inside to review a few of our latest energy bills and talk about proper system sizing.

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What you would normally except at this time was to get a hard sell on the size and type of system that you need, but instead what we got was quite the opposite. Instead of telling us we needed a system that would completely take us off of commercial energy dependence Rebecca and Dan advised us on ways that we could actually reduce our overall need. Using a little devise called a “Kill-a-Watt Meter” we made a trek through our house identifying devices that were carrying phantom loads. These are devices such as most cable or satellite box receivers that appear to be off to you and I, but are actually continually pulling energy into them at al times. The most surprising was our coffee maker which was taking a good 20 watts and hour when off and unbelievable 900+ watts and hour when it was on— and apparently this is quite common as Rebecca new right where to go to show us the main culprits. From there they shared with us a couple of simple tricks to manage your energy waste through the use of simple things like connecting your devices to power strips and turning the entire strip off when not needed. The Average Minnesotan uses about 815 kwh a month. By just implementing a few of these simple techniques you could easily cut that amount in half and potentially even more if you were really diligent about it. This type of awareness helped them reduce their home energy needs from about 600kwh a month to roughly 200kwh meaning a significant reduction in the size of their system and cost of their month bill to the energy company.

Sizing the system
At our house we use slightly less than the monthly average of 815 kWh a month at about 750 kWh a month. this meant that on an average day we used about 25 kWh. Every kWh per day is equal to 5 200 watt solar panels. However Rebecca recommended against installing a system that met 100% of your need. In part because it was easy to reduce your consumption but additionally because as energy becomes more of an issue more and more of your home appliances will become better at energy conservation. This means that in a few years your system would quickly become over sized for your homes needs, and you would have over invested in the technology. Instead she encouraged us to first try and reduce our use through simple conservation methods and then determine what would be a cost effective system to help supplement our energy needs.

Offering up solutions to both supplement my energy needs with a solar energy systems but more importantly to advise us on ways we could actually reduce our demand, lowering the size and cost of the system we would require by decreasing our over-all energy needs. This type genuine interest in helping me to reduce my energy consumption in an effort to decrease my costs and decrease my carbon footprint was proof to me that Powerfully Green were in this for all the right reasons and that I could trust their advisement. I don’t have plans to put in a system right now but maybe in a few years we’ll make an invest in one, for now we are working at trimming our energy needs on a daily basis.

If you’re interested in a site survey like the one we had you can contact powerfully green via their website and for a small fee they will come out and conduct an entire home audit along with generating a report of their findings for you to reference to.

Patio furniture finally arrives

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

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In April, Stacy had placed our order from Costco.com for a sectional to be used on our upper deck. She had spent a fair amount of time looking for one that would not only look good, be durable but also not cost a fortune. The sectional was scheduled to be delivered in 4 to 6 weeks from the time of order but this was not the case. In mid May, when the first delivery date was anticipated, but the furniture had not arrived Stacy called to locate it. They gave her a scheduled delivery date for the following week, this would prove to be 1 of 5 delivery dates that we would receive over the next 4 weeks.

During one of the calls that followed yet another false delivery date, Costco actually told Stacy that she should call the delivery company herself since they were a subcontractor of Costco. After a long and frustrating series of calls and scheduled delivery dates, Stacy finally received a call back from the delivery company, only to say they would not be delivering the furniture that Friday after all, but that it was being shipped to another delivery company because they would no longer be handling this business. Back to square one. The series of continued exchanges grew very frustrating as we couldn’t get an answer out of either Costco, the manufactuer (Soma International,who Costco again told us to deal with) or the finally identified “new” delivery company. After waiting at this point 9 weeks, we were afraid to cancel our order as the other sectional options we had looked at, were either sold out for the season or meant an additional 4 to 6 weeks delivery, putting us at the end of summer. Finally, after we received the 5th false delivery date and no call explanation from Costco as to what was going on, we canceled our order and membership. Then miraculously, the next day, we received another call, this time the delivery person was very helpful. He told us he wants to schedule a delivery for the next day, however he didn’t feel comfortable doing so since he didn’t actually have the piece at this time and this was not the normal procedure (since it might require that we take off from work to be there to receive it). However, he was finally able to tell us the location of our sectional and promised that it would be in his hands in the next few days, at which time he would schedule an actual delivery date. Ironically it seems our canceling the order is what prompted it’s delivery. Maybe we should have done that the same day we ordered it.

Ultimately the sectional has proved to be of really nice quality and to our surprise, arrived in fairly good shape, less a couple of scrunched pillows. I can’t say I’m impressed with my first Costco experience and will have to think long and hard before I make any other Costco purchases.