Monthly Archives: May 2007

What makes a building material “green?”

This week on the radio I’m talking about what makes a particular building material environmentally friendly, or “green.”

Consumers have little to go off of apart from a manufacturer’s claim when it comes to really knowing the true ecological impact of some items. To illustrate, consider bamboo vs. wood. Which is a more ecologically sound choice for flooring?

There’s been lots of press about the quick regrowth rate of bamboo. It appears highly sustainable. But now we’re starting to hear about chemicals used during manufacturing to bind the shoots. And what about the standards for the workers producing the flooring in China? And what about the petroleum used to ship it to a house in the U.S.? How does the product then compare to oak harvested from a sustainable forest in the U.S.?

I am not making the claim that either one is better than the other, just that it’s not a black and white issue. It seems there is no perfect material and there are always tradeoffs.

That leads to the question, what makes a material “green?” This list posted on the green building website for the State of California has what I think looks to be a pretty thorough list of considerations:

Factors for evaluating a green building material

Resource Efficiency (embodied energy):

  • Recycled Content
  • Natural, plentiful or renewable
  • Resource efficient manufacturing process
  • Locally available
  • Salvaged, refurbished, or remanufactured
  • Reusable or recyclable
  • Recycled or recyclable product packaging
  • Durable

Indoor Air Quality:

  • Low or non-toxic
  • Minimal chemical emissions
  • Low-VOC assembly
  • Moisture-resistant
  • Healthfully maintained
  • Systems or equipment for identifying pollutants

Energy Efficiency

  • Materials, components, and systems that help reduce energy consumption

Water Conservation

  • Products and systems that help reduce water consumption

Construction recycling resources in Dallas

A source at Turner Construction, a large commercial building company with operations in Dallas, provided me this terrific list of resources they use for recycling debris from sites they are working on here. Thanks to Turner for letting me post it!

Construction Recyclers in Dallas

Keeping construction debris out of the dump

Today on the radio I’m talking about recycling as it pertains to construction and remodeling. What’s interesting here is what a large proportion of our waste this debris makes up. Dallas Landfill Manager Rick White told me that while composition of landfill intake fluctuates, it’s not unreasonable to say that construction debris makes up 40% of the total.

One practice that reduces such waste is salvaging more usable materials. I’ve listed a few salvage places to check out at the bottom of this post.

Another option for reducing waste that is doable for just about anyone is to take advantage of free online classified-type ads for disposing of or purchasing items that still have useful life left in them. My particular favorite is the Craigslist “Household” section. On most days this section for DFW alone has more than 300 items posted.

I purchased my dishwasher via this method from a lady who was getting rid of her relatively new, high-end white Kenmore for a stainless steel model. Here it is in my kitchen:

New DW, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

And to come full circle, I posted my old one in the “Free” section of Craigslist, and a guy who actually still has one of these was more than happy to take it off my hands for the parts. Here’s the old one:

Vintage DW, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

My motivation was more financial than environmental, but at the end of the day the landfill had two fewer dishwasers than it might have, and surely that’s worth something.

Architectural Salvage Sources in Dallas

Online sources for reusable remodeling materials

  • Craigslist: As noted above, the “Household” section is great for nearly new appliances, cabinets, etc.
  • Ebay: Helpful for finding specific items such like fixtures with the site’s “Search” and “Watch” features.

Building a box to grow salad greens

Last week the NYT home section ran a story about how an ag extension specialist in Maryland developed instructions for growing salad in a box. He wrote up instructions for how to build the box, and apparently this setup works quite well. I wanted to look at the story again today but alas, the story’s no longer gratis. I found his explanatory page and the downloadable instructions and have posted them here in case anyone is interested. I have some more urgent “hands on” projects to get to, but once I have time I think I may build one of these.

Hands On Radio! First topic – Rainwater Harvesting

On Saturday I broadcast the first “Hands On” segment on David Yates’ “Home Improvement Zone” radio talk show. I covered how to harvest rainwater by hooking up a barrel or tank to your gutter downspout. Listen to a recording of it here:

This Saturday I’ll cover why you should care about architectural salvage and where you go to find it. The recurring theme of these radio bits will be green living hands on.

The “Home Improvement Zone” runs 2-5 p.m. on 570 a.m. KLIF in Dallas and ESPN 97.5 FM The Ticket in Houston. KLIF has live streaming audio if you want to catch me on the radio and don’t live in Texas.

Next time we’ll be taking callers so listen and dial! I also want you to email me with suggestions of topics you’d like me to cover, and please start posting comments on these entries.

5 Reasons to set up a rain barrel

Today I visited a warehouse in Arlington to learn how rain barrels and tanks are built. These systems allow a homeowner to capture and store rainwater for later use, and they’re becoming more popular both because of “green” gardening and the increasing water restrictions here in north Texas.

Rain barrels, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

Typical barrels hold around 60 gallons and collect water from the bottom of a trimmed gutter downspout. They have one or more spigots at the bottom to distribute the water. Tanks expand the storage capacity to any size up to 50,000 gallons, some with more complex distribution systems like pumps that attach to sprinklers.

Five reasons to consider setting up a rain barrel or tank are…

  1. It’s a free source of water.

  2. The water you capture is not subject to the restrictions many cities put on watering.

  3. Rainwater is chemical- and mineral-free, and plants like that a lot more than the sprinkler. They’ll be greener.

  4. The great sense of satisfaction you will have. 😉

  5. OK so this is a stretch, but if everyone were to reuse more water, there would be less of a burden on water treatment facilities. These plants cost a lot to build and operate, both in terms of money and energy. Recycling and using water at its point of origin makes good environmental sense.


Where to Buy

Diagnosing the septic system at Lake K

Yesterday I learned enough about septic systems to know I’ll never own one. John the septic expert explained to my bro-in-law and me the ins and outs (literally) of the tanks buried at the family’s house at Lake K.

Septic system, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

This house has been vacant for over a year, and we figured something was up when starting up electricity at the house resulted in gigantic sprays of stinky water coming up from a couple spots in the front yard.

I thought that had to be a mistake. But instead, it’s how a properly functioning system works. Solids and liquids enter the tank, a pump adds air, and micro-organisms break down the poo and liquid waste. This slush passes over a chlorinated tablet and then sprays out onto your lawn.

Works well enough I suppose, but it seems pretty gross at the same time. John also commented that far too many property owners don’t properly maintain their systems, and so to think about the possibility of all that less-than-treated water polluting the ground and the lake …. YUK. Makes the sewer seem sweet!

Excess in a slab

Concrete slab, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

I took this photo of a concrete slab foundation out at Lake K. This new house will be right next to the house we’re working on, and I heard that this rain-filled pit will be the wine cellar.

Fashionable flowers

Inspired by a book I’m reading called “Saturday Night Hat” by Eugenia Kim, I decided that I wanted to wear something sassy in my hair to a wedding Michael and I attended this weekend in Austin. I didn’t have the stuff to stitch a quick hat, so instead I packed a few of the flower arranging tools left over from my own wedding projects.

Michael and me at Rich and Lauren’s wedding, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

After experimenting with a couple different ways to attach the blooms, it seemed to work best just sticking a couple wired flowers into the rubber band. I chose some hardy pink daisy-like flowers from the supermarket, which worked out well after my manhandling them into place and the wind, and the dancing. This proves that all that wedding flower wiring really can come in handy later on!

Cocktail anyone?

A couple summers ago Michael and I were visiting New York City one weekend and after a show wandered into a place in the theater district called Bar Americain. It’s a newish Bobby Flay restaurant, and despite the large size of the open dining area, it has a classy unique feel to it with lots of warm lighting and at least a couple bartenders who really know their stuff. Ours that night helped us choose from the rare bourbons, and he talked a lot about how the masses that mix with vodka haven’t tasted great cocktails since vodka doesn’t really have a taste.

I was thinking about that experience tonight as I was reading The Art of the Bar: Cocktails Inspired by the Classics. The authors are two successful bartenders from San Francisco. The recipes are great, but what makes it worth a look are the stories and color that the authors bring to the histories of the concoctions.