Thursday, October 01, 2015

Throwback Thursday - What's in a Flush?

So over the past weekend I was visiting a school of design and reviewing them for CIDA (Council for Interior Design Accreditation).  I was talking with my colleagues on the visiting team and some of the faculty members at the school, and we were discussing my home and some of the things we went through in building such a "different" home.  I was recalling this story from 2006, so I thought I would share it again with my readers today . . .

Dual Flush toilets are everywhere now!  We have 3 of these:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

This or that? Clothes Dryers, Cool Roofs, and Christmas Trees

You know that guy who writes the books and articles, "Eat This, Not That"?  Well, here's my own little take on that theme - only instead of food, I'll be talking about green living this and that.

First, here's one from me personally.  I often have people ask me the question - Which Christmas Tree is Greener - Artificial or Real?  (I know, I hate talking about Christmas in March, but it's something worth thinking on a while - especially if you are thinking of making a change in your normal choice in this matter!  Think about it for a few months before you really have to decide!)  Of course the GREENEST choice is no tree at all, and I may get there someday, but not while my kids are still living at home.  For me, it's just too much tradition and too many memories to give up.  We make a big deal of getting our tree and decorating our tree together as a family, so I'm sorry, but my environmental legacy will just have to be tainted a bit.

There are people who are on both sides of this argument, but my research leads me to give a slight edge to the "cut-your-own" real tree.  Notice that I didn't say a real tree that was pre-cut from one of those tree lots - because who knows when that tree was cut and how long it's been on a truck, or where it came from?  I prefer the cut-your-own tree, because then you know exactly when it was cut, how far it traveled, and so on.  Cut-your-own trees last longer and stay healthier than pre-cut trees.  The trees farms are managed responsibly and the trees provide habitat and eco-benefits for the years that they are growing.  And because they are newly cut, the fire hazard is greatly reduced with a cut-your-own tree.  In fact, I would estimate that the cut your own tree that's watered regularly is the safest kind of tree.  I posed this question to my 10 year old and I think we've got a science fair project in the works to test the flammability of different types of Christmas trees, including artificial trees.  (Which I am NOT a fan of at all.  Any reason that a real tree could catch on fire is just as much of a reason that an artificial tree will catch on fire, and the toxic fumes created when all of that plastic goes up in flames severely decreases your chances of making it out because you'll be overcome by the fumes.  That's exactly the reason why building codes require plastic products like foam insulation to be protected with a fire barrier like gypsum board / drywall.)  There are tons of articles on the Internet about this debate - with conclusions on both sides - so do your own research and make the best choice for you.  Just remember that any live tree needs to be kept watered - check it daily -  and never leave lights on unattended when you are away or sleeping! (this is true for artificial trees too!)  There are lots of eco-friendly ways to get rid of your cut tree when you are finished with it - a quick search and you'll be presented with more ideas than you can imagine.  (who knew it could become an underwater fish habitat in a pond?)

Some other topics you might be interested in:

This or That - Clothes Dryers on Low for an extended time or High for a shorter time?  (Mr. Green answers that one here.)

This or That - a Vegetated / Green Roof or a Solar Reflective White Roof?  (Mr. Green answers that one here.)  Enjoy!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Green Home Tour

Today we hosted a lively group of 20 or so homeowners, architects, builders, and people interested in green design.  Chuck Lohre and his Green Cincinnati Education Advocacy group sponsored the tour, and we spent the morning talking about green building, passive solar design, energy efficiency, and rainwater catchment systems.  Fortunately, it was a nice, sunny morning and the house was working beautifully - we were even able to do an experiment to show how the design and windows allow the sunlight to enter the space, and the concrete floor absorbs the heat from the sun.  And of course, the highlight of the tour (at least for some) was seeing our electric meter running backwards.  There were a lot of eager people looking to learn more either for their businesses or for their own personal homes.  Here's a link to the article about the tour from the Cincinnati Enquirer:

I hope we were able to answer everyone's questions and inspire them to live well and dream green!  Please don't forget to Like, Share, Tweet, Follow, etc. - using the buttons below this post.  You can also subscribe to this blog using the Subscribe button over on the upper left of this page.  Thanks!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Difference between Cement and Concrete . . .

Good morning, Green Dreamers!  Today's post will discuss an often overlooked, yet important topic - the difference between cement and concrete.  Have you ever seen something made of cement like a floor or wall and you just loved the finish?  Probably not, because cement is basically just a dry powder.  It's one ingredient in concrete.  Concrete is what you see "things" made out of.  Concrete is a 90% mixture of coarse aggregates, fine aggregates, water, and chemical additives (to slow or quicken hardening, for example).  The other 10% in a concrete mixture is cement.  Cement on it's own is a very high embodied energy product.  Embodied energy is the energy that it takes to manufacture a product.  Since cement is so refined, it takes a lot of production energy to create it.  In an effort to make concrete more environmentally-friendly, contractors, designers, architects, and other concrete specialists have created cement mixtures that replace a portion of the cement needed to create concrete with other materials called, pozzolans.  Pozzolans are simply cement replacement materials.  Some pozzolans are byproducts of burning coal, such as flyash.  Other pozzolans are byproducts of steel or silicon.  Since these materials are byproducts of another industry, using them as an ingredient in concrete to offset the usage of cement is the ultimate in recycled content materials.  Pozzolans are materials that normally would go to a landfill and are typically cheaper than cement.  Pozzolans also increase the strength and durability of concrete because the pozzolan particles are denser and finer.

The product I used in my master bathroom shower shown in my previous post was a high-pozzolan-content concrete microtopping overlay product called Deco-Poz.  The finer particles and increased strength make it perfect to use in a thin overlay application, and the liquid polymer used to mix the concrete created strong adhesion or bonding properties.  Only a very small amount of water was used when mixing this product.

I've seen a similar product used on a flooring overlay as well. 

The bottom line is that there are more decorative concrete applications being used all the time and the concrete industry - especially the decorative concrete industry - is changing rapidly.  Most concrete contractors are still focusing their work on exterior jobs - pouring horizontal flatwork like sidewalks, patios, and driveways, or vertical retaining walls and foundations.  But for a few adventurous contractors, moving into decorative overlays is a viable business opportunity and one that consumers have been looking for.  Resurfacing patios, pool decks, and garage or basement floors with overlays or stain options is a growing trend.  Additionally, concrete counter tops are becoming highly requested.  For consumers, my advice would be to search for decorative concrete contractors, or better yet - go to their source.  Search for your local decorative concrete materials supply house and visit them.  Tell them about the project you are needing help with, and they may be able to point you in the right direction of a qualified contractor.

Unfortunately, my supply house didn't have anyone to recommend to me for a concrete microtopping overlay in an interior shower.  Quite honestly, they looked at me like I was totally nuts . . . but I had done my research and felt fairly confident it would work.  So, I ordered the materials and rolled up my sleeves and did the work myself.  So far, so good - it's been about 2 weeks x 2 showers a day, so 14 showers later and it's still looking great. . .  You can find an abundance of information by searching "concrete shower" on the web.  I even know someone who poured her own concrete Japanese soaking tub (splatgirl, you rock).    So, just be aware that there are lots of new, greener concrete mixtures and techniques for you and your interiors!

Monday, February 09, 2015

Always the willing and eager Guinea Pig - the no-grout shower

I hate grout joints, and so I guess that means, I hate tile.  Now before all of my tile-guy friends (wait, was that sexist?  Maybe I should say my tile-person friends - even though they are all guys?) . . .  Anyway, before all the tile people get in an uproar; yeah, I know there's really cool tile out there, and I know it looks great (for like a year), and I know that it's all about the installation and sealing the grout properly.  BUT there's no denying that in places like Cincinnati where our water is INCREDIBLY hard and full of calcium and other minerals, grout and tile in showers is a maintenance nightmare no matter how well you seal the grout.  The best alternative I've always been given is use large format tiles on the walls with the thinnest grout joint possible.  Oh, and use dark grout.  Ok, fine and dandy, but it's still a nightmare.  I wanted to find a monolithic shower solution that wasn't solid surface plastic and/or polymers.  If possible, I wanted a plaster or concrete look that could be applied right over my absolutely solid tile substrate so that I wouldn't have to demo the tile.  Who was I kidding?  No such thing exists right?  Well, I guess I'll let you know in a year or so, but for now, my shower rocks and it's all because of a product called Deco-Poz.

Basically Deco Poz is a concrete/cement formula with Pozzolan added to it (Wikipedia is your friend).  It's basically a concrete microtopping resurfacing system with a liquid polymer added in to the mixture for adhesion and durability properties.  So basically, I mixed the liquid polymer with the Deco-Poz concrete powder, troweled it on with a rubber float and voila, no more grout joints and nothing but concrete shower as far as the eye can see.  To be fair, it was a much tougher job than I expected.  I had to use various foam brushes or my hands to apply the mixture near the edges and in corners.  (I'm sure a real concrete or even a drywall person with far superior skills than mine could have done a much better job - or done it at least faster).  The job included lots of sanding of the original glazed tile (white tile in the before pic), non glazed tile (dark gray tile), and glass tile (small green tiles) with 50 grit sandpaper.  I did it by hand because I was trying to keep the dust in the house down - but you could use a power belt or palm sander too.  The concrete mixture did not adhere to the glass tiles very well at all and took some working and more coats.  The white glazed tile took less coats and less work than the glass tile, but more work and coats than the gray tile.  The gray tile was a natural slate tile and the concrete microtopping adhered to it very well.  Overall, I layered 3 coats on most of the shower with 24 hours and some sanding between coats.  Then I sealed it all with a heavy traffic sealer called Eco Tuff.  This sealer is normally used for high traffic commercial floors and is waterproof.  I used about 4-5 coats of sealer with 24 hours between coats.

BTW - the shower base is a Swanstone base, so I had to tape and shield that off before I started, as I did for the adjacent walls and ceiling.  We used a clear caulk to caulk the space between the shower wall and receptacle / base.  The faucet is new, but very similar to the old one - it's a Grohe thermostatic exposed faucet with hand sprayer.

Like I said, I'll let you know in a year or two how it holds up. Yes, I hate grout joints THAT much that I'm totally willing to try experimental products and applications.  My next experiment will be to pour a self-leveling epoxy floor (think garage or car showroom floor) over the 2"  x2" tile floor in the kids' bathroom. I wish I had concrete floors upstairs too.  Then I would have just sealed their bathroom floor and been done with it.  White tile, white grout and little boys don't mix - 'nuff said.  Stay tuned for that project, but in the mean time, enjoy the before and after shower pictures!  Thanks for reading, don't forget to Like and Share (use the little buttons below this post) and as always, Live Well and Dream Green!