Renovation Disorders

by Heather Rae

During my summer hiatus from writing for cleantechblog, the focus of my house renovation shifted to landscaping and miscellaneous demolition. Eight giant willow trees and two large spruce that blocked winter sun came down. John and James chopped them into mulch which I dispersed on the expanded gardens. The gardens displace much of the lawn for which I purchased that electric mower back in May. (Oh, well.) This parcel of land breeds stones, and I unearthed a grand pile for the front yard. Dusty, the mailman, took them to build a retaining wall at this house. He’ll also take the logs of willow (which are sprouting in the stack) for one of those outdoor residential wood heaters that has caused a bit of a stink in Maine. Like the pile of metal that was amassed on the front yard (ducts and copper at $2/pound), somebody else, gratefully, has use for my refuse.
I ripped out the 1970s cardboard ceiling tile in the kitchen, cringing under the shower of plaster and rodent feces, of mice near the exterior door and of something larger near the interior. I thought of hantavirus while sweeping up the rubble of plaster and lathe and poop…and kept the face mask tightly affixed. All the lathe from the house demolition is piled for kindling. I have yet to find a home for the plaster and old drywall but for the dump.
The designated renovation funds have seeped to zero (the trees were an unplanned $3K), so I quickly purchased a Monitor heater so there would be one heating source besides the wood stove. I discovered, after numerous conversations with heating technicians and biofuel suppliers, that Monitors, which take kerosene, cannot run on biofuel. But a Monitor, for myriad reasons, it had to be until I can find something ‘greener.’ So much, for now, for my biofuel idea.
This week, Charlie Huntington of I&S Insulation, provided an estimate to place ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM or rubber) on the basement floor and an air barrier (two-part closed cell foam) on the brick portion of the foundation. Charlie is an engineer with a degree from MIT and a former manager with two large lighting companies. He now runs three insulation crews and has completed training in home performance. He, like James and John, exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit of Maine, and I feel blessed to have them working on this old house.
As the fall approached, I ushered along an EPA media campaign for the Maine Home Performance with Energy Star program and joined the marketing committee of Maine Interfaith Power and Light which has signed up with SmartPower to launch a marketing campaign around clean energy. And, Dylan Voorhees of Natural Resource Council of Maine, asked if I could speak on a panel on global warming at NRCM’s annual meeting. The question to ‘noodle’ is, ‘is global warming a movement?’ My noodle feels rigid and pre-cooked these days, so I did some due diligence in front of the magazine rack at Hannafords. Time magazine, National Geographic, This Old House, and others, have dedicated covers to global warming and ‘greenery.’ This was, possibly, the sign of a movement. I collected up several magazines, tallied the cost, and put them all back rationalizing that I could read them at the library and save on waste paper.
OK, so I kept This Old House to read about the psychological profiles of house renovators: if one has a mildly repetitive-compulsive profile, try sanding. If one has an attention deficit hyperactivity/hyperactive disorder, try demolition. And if one is slightly codependent, try wallpaper hanging. As the leaves turn and fall, and the house remains unheated and not fully insulated, it’s clear that my compulsive, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders have gotten the best of me. But you won’t find me hanging wallpaper.

Heather Rae, a contributor to, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she begins renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

2 replies
  1. Cheryl
    Cheryl says:

    Enjoyed your blog. Wondering if you have heard of Bio Bricks, they are a wood burning alternative that are made of sawdust and wood scraps, right here in CT. They are supposed to be better for the environment and cleaner to deal with than cord wood. I’m going to try them this year and wondered if anyone else has?

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