Attempting to Live a Sustainable Lifestyle in St. Louis

Environmentally friendly decisions are tough

I heart Portland’s bicycle culture July 3, 2009

Filed under: General Green 2.0,Transportation — budint @ 4:59 pm

While in Portland for the first time recently, I learned how infused biking is into their culture. It’s a phenomenon that any city would be envious of, especially when combined w/ their public transit system.

For our Portland bicycle education we went with Todd owner of Pedal Bike Tours just northwest of downtown.  He offers a range of tours from brewery and coffee cycle tours to old neighborhood and green tours.  We opted for the ‘historic hoods’ tour because we were interested in portland’s old neighborhoods.  We rode around for 3 hours and Todd explained each neighborhood and pointed out all of the unique bicycle friendly features.  Throughout the whole tour i was completely amazed by how friendly, tolerant, whatever you want to call it, that the drivers were.

If you follow biking or bicycle advocacy seriously, none of this is new to you. Portland actually obtained Platinum status last year from the League of American Cyclists last year for being the largest bike friendly metro in the U.S.

portland plat

Needless to say, they have alot of things going for them here that we can’t pull off in St Louis.  Nice weather, hippy culture, better mass transit to tie in w/ biking and nice weather.  Even with all of that, there are still things we can do in St Louis it make biking for common.  Just need to figure out what that is.

Thanks for the ideas Portland.

 

barn door project with left-over siding May 4, 2009

Filed under: Design,Green Rehab,Reuse — budint @ 1:47 am
Tags: , , , ,

Our bedroom has a huge opening which looks out through sliding glass doors at our upstairs patio and onto the backyard.  This also means that the neighbors behind us can see into our bedroom

The opening also lets a ton of light in in the morning and this is annoying to us who need it dark to sleep.  None of this was a surprise and a barn door was always in the plans.

What the barn door would be made of was always a question.  We talked about colored MDF or Maple FSC plywood.  Both nice options, but we were budget conscious and a little concerned about introducing another wood species which might clash with our white oak floors.

The idea came to me as i walked around the house trying to organize the piles of excess building materials.  One pile consisted of left-over siding from our rain-screen.  Another was a pile of rigid insulation.   And obviously, i have a lot of 2×4’s left-over.

So with all of this, i made a frame w/ the 2×4’s, stuck the rigid insulation inside and sandwiched it with the left-over James Hardie cement board lap siding.  (see below and don’t mind messy bed)

barn door

The door is pretty heavy because of the cement board, but rolls really easily with the barn door hardware from Hardware and Tools.com.

We totally love the door and the ability to open the bedroom to bright sunlight or close it off for a nice, dark cave.

 

the modern house I use to hate March 18, 2009

Filed under: Design,Landscaping,St Louis,The hood — budint @ 1:43 am

modern house on juniata

Back in 2002-03 (can’t remember), I was a big fan of the old architecture in St Louis and still am.  My neighborhood, which is the same one I’m back in today, was full of brick shotgun homes, 2 families and a street of bungalows.  I was really proud of living in an area with such original architecture that when this house was built several blocks away, I was appalled.

Like any new home on a lot in an old neighborhood, it looked out of place.  Just by the fact it was a new structure on an empty lot, it looked odd.   Add to the fact that it was a crazy looking, modern home and folks in the hood (including myself) thought it was a real mistake.  Not sure how much grief the guy took or if he even cared, but I heard about it frequently and saw ppl on the neighborhood chat board mentioning it.

So 5-6yrs later what do i think of the house?

imodern house fitting in

Firstly, I’ve realized that it takes some time for a new house to fit in.  The trees must grow back, the landscaping takes place, the weathering of materials, etc.

Secondly, the owner did a decent job w/ the landscaping that really helped to fill around the large white mass.  The thin and see thru wooden fence also does well to tie the modern structure to more natural surroundings.

Lastly, I’ve come to appreciate a mixture of design styles within a modern urban setting. I personally chose to be a bit more discrete and not disrupt the curb appeal of my street, but I don’t think that option was here for this house.   So if you’re going to go new, then challenge the current preconceptions of new homes and that’s what this guy did.

Only thing I know (or I’ve been told) about the owner is that he’s an architecture teacher at Washington University, here in St Louis.

 

Landscaping the backyard; currently ideating March 12, 2009

Filed under: Landscaping,Live Green 2.0 — budint @ 2:07 pm
Tags: ,

The back yard is a post construction disaster and now it’s time to do something.  Not only does it look horrible, but my dog is treating it like a mud wrestling pit and I’m sick of bathing her after every outing.  The short-term solution has been to throw down a bunch of straw until i can come up with the master plan.   Like with the front yard, we’ll focus on drought resistant and native plants, plus try to reuse any rock, brick or wood that we can.  The idea would be to use my rain barrel to collect water from the gutter and have that be the only source of watering the backyard.   Still on a serious budget though, so it’ll have to be a balance.

backyard

Resources:

I looked online briefly, but then immediately turned to my local library.  Picked up 2 books:

Modern Garden Design, by Thames and Hudson – partway through the book.  Takes a nice historical perspective and ties in alot of the thinking of the well known modern architects.  Enjoying this book thus far, though the pictures are a bit lacking for generating ideas.

Making the Modern Garden , by Christopher Bradley-Hole – This one had nice pictures, but lacked in historical substance i was kind of looking for.  Much of the focus of the book is on the author’s own landscape architecture work.

Let me know if you have any good online resources that aren’t for the uber-wealthy.

 

holy smartcars batman!!!! here in st louis? really? March 4, 2009

Filed under: Live Green 2.0 — budint @ 12:06 am
Tags:

smart car

Was driving to the library on Saturday (cause it was way to cold to walk and hadn’t started the car in 3 weeks) when I saw with amazement a brand new smart car parked on the side.  I did a double take and went back around the block (one way street) to take a pic.

It was in fact a smartcar, as confirmed by checking their website, which shows all three of their completely identical models. Presumably purchased from the St Louis dealership, though I didn’t know there was a St Louis dealership til now.  And upon searching I found this comment on NY Times blog where this guy has apparently been a SmartCar wholesaler in St Louis for the past 2 years.  (you can be a SmartCar wholesaler? wonder how that’s working in this economy)

Now maybe its because I don’t get out on the road much, but you’d think with going to Earth Day, green home conventions, green open houses and living in a fairly progressive part of town I would have seen this sooner.    Just happy to see that even in St Louis where gas is about as cheap as it gets, folks are willing to think outside the box.

 

Programmable thermostats February 27, 2009

Filed under: Live Green 2.0,Mechanical Systems — budint @ 2:19 pm

No, I don’t live in the 90’s and of course I realize that programmable thermostats aren’t new.  However, the hvac sub who worked on my place must’ve met these criteria.   So finally, now that we’re getting more settled and I’m working thru my personal punchlist I’ve finally gotten around to installing one of the two programmable thermostats.

The brand I’ve stumbled upon recently and have been impressed with thus far is RiteTemp (home depot’s brand I believe).  You can tell that some market research went into the thermostat buying/installation process cause everything about RiteTemp’s packaging, instructions, toll free support numbers and all around value proposition is about ‘simple, do it yourself and compatibility.’    What I think they did above and beyond however, was to add some style.

The first one i installed was the 6030 model.  It has a straight forward look with a nice sized layout and of course its touch screen so you feel like you’re in the 21st century. (The fingerprints might drive me nuts, but you can’t really see them when the flash isn’t there).

6030 RiteTemp

The second model, which I’ll be installing this weekend, is a flush mount model 6036 which is on their homepage.   I love the look of this thing; very “Bill Gates wired home” like.  My only small, small reservation is that you have to cut a hole in the dry-wall to install this (which is fine), but what happens if this unit goes bad and I can’t find it again?  I’ll be stuck having to patch my dry-wall hole and going back w/ a non-flush mounted model.    I can only hope that this model was so successful that they’ll keep selling it year after year.

Great thing about both of these is they were only $49 a piece.  A great value in my mind.

 

Tankless hotwater, love hate relationship February 24, 2009

Filed under: Green Rehab,Mechanical Systems — budint @ 4:16 am

Been using the o’l Takagi TK-3 tankless water heater for about 2 months now and have a new perspective on these little guys.  As you know, they’re not cheap, expensive actually, coming in at around $800.   Then you have the learning curve in that most plumbers haven’t put many of these things in.  Then you also have the joy of needing to get any type of part off of the internet or trying to find a local alternative.

The delay factor

Maybe all tankless heaters are like this or maybe it’s because my plumbers ran home-runs to all of the faucets with pex tubing (or a combo of both), but the delivery of hot-water definitely takes awhile.   For larger faucets like the bathtub or shower, it happens within 10-15 seconds.  For sinks, it can take up to 35 seconds.  This is discouraging as you’re watching all of this nice cold water go flowing down the sink.    The only way I sleep at night is by thinking about our dual flush toilets, which I hope equal out the water wasted by the tankless.

Constant Heat

Once the water has arrived however, it’s hot  for as long as you’d like.  We’ve even taken showers with the washing machine or dishwasher going and have no problem.  The wife can fill up the bathtub w/ hot water (huge waste) and there’s still a constant supply of hotwater for something else.

And of course, the big benefit is that you’re not heating water the other 23hrs per day that you don’t need hot water.

Couple notes:

The required category III venting is expensive stainless steel stuff that will really set you back.  This is necessary because the btu’s giving off by these units is much more than a tanked water heater.   Because of the extreme temperatures/BTU’s, you can’t have anything flammable anywhere in the room.  So this makes it tough for a basement where you might want to do some spray painting or something.