Monday, December 28, 2009

Beautiful Noise

There is lots of activity inside and outside the house today.
Inside, the kids are enjoying their Christmas bounty with Aunt Kathy, who has come for her holiday visit from California.

Outside, the sounds of footsteps, drills and hammers on the roof. The PV array is finally going up. FINALLY! It's not the 3.5k system we had originally planned, but a smaller 2.8k system. Them's the breaks. We should be fully functional by the end of today. Fingers and toes are crossed.

This is a huge leap from where we were just a few weeks ago. As I wrote earlier, we'd experienced an unbelievably stressful fall/early winter.

We were let down by Solaris Energy, our previous solar installer. Let down is a very nice way to put it. Our trust (and out investement) in the company and it's president was completely pretty much lost. Let's just say that we now have the attorney general's office and local court system involved in the relationship with them.

The situation with Solaris Energy has potentiallly set us back several years, but the beautiful noise reminds me why we set out on this journey.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What a @#%&* Fall!

FIVE MONTHS. Five months since the last entry. PA-thet-ic!

In the last post we were happy. The roof was done, no more leaks during rain storms, and the solar array was about to be installed. It was Tuesday, July 28 and the solar installer was to begin the installation the following day. Ah, the good ol' days when we were young. OK—so we were the same age it feels like we aged far more rapidly than normal.

No one showed. That does happen. Sometimes contractors fall behind schedule and don't always call. We're patient people. Understanding people. We waited until the Monday. Nobody and no evidence that any equipment had arrived. Not a thing. OK, time to call Mr. McKinley, the friendly solar contractor who was so jovial on camera during the Renovation Nation episode. A regular Mr. Happy. So helpful, so charming.

So we called. And our dear Mr. McKinley told us that there was a snafu with the panels. They would be drop shipped to the house on Wednesday.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Thing of Beauty

Finished, completed, leakless.

The roof is done and it looks lover-ly! A lovely roof? Seriously?

In our old house the way the roof looked didn't matter. It was three stories above eye-level. The beauty of that house was in the victorian details of the porch (even though it was falling apart), windows, and masonry. But that was in the big city. Out suberbia, the roof on our split-level house is akin to Dr. Suess's Cat's hat. In other words, the roof is a major part of the house's visual identity. And did I mention it doesn't leak?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It Ain't Sexy ...

... but it is a biggie in our eco-renovation journey.

Actually it is kind of sexy. For us anyway. A new roof. Exciting stuff ... really.

On Renovation Nation Steve Thomas was (rightfully) incredulous about the condition of the roof. While the structure was quite sound and nowhere near ready to crumble and cave into our living room, the shingles were in horrible shape. Pitiful. Ugly.

But that's all about to change. It's changing as I write. I can hear the roofers overhead. Sounds like wild animals on the roof. 

And who knew roof shingles could be ENERGYSTAR® rated? This new stuff (GAF Timberline®) is supposed to help us save on energy costs. Just in case you're interested, we selected the color Barkwood:

Oh, and there was the frantic call this morning to Mike the solar guy. He has to rush over to take down the small array so the roof can be completed.  

We're trying to get the shingles recycled, but the local company that specializes in roof materials recycling hasn't returned our calls. 

This really is very exciting! In a few days, barring any major mishaps, we'll not only have the new roof, but the full PV array up and running. High utility bills be gone!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Let There be Light

I know its corny but I find myself going in and out of the downstairs bathroom. we installed a sensor that automatically turns the lights on and then turns them off 15 seconds after leaving the room. If you have kids, then these are essential to saving energy. They cost 15 dollars and are installed in about 30 minutes (if you are good at electronics a lot faster). Anyway, we figure there are lots of rooms and closets where the automatic lights can help. we'll need every bit of help as we'll need to cut our family's energy use by 25% in order to have zero electric bills after our solar panels are installed in about two weeks!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lighten Up!

All right. I've had a nice long weekend to chill out and cool down (all without air conditioning).

After listening to friends and family reactions and watching the show again, we were able to have fun and relax. It was a great experience, we may have earned some eco-cred, and Steve really is a cool guy.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Calm But Dissapointed

Maybe I'm taking this too seriously. Maybe I should let it go. And I will. After this post.

The following is our response to Steve Thomas's Journal on Planet Green:

While we understand the need to generate interest, tension, and ratings, we also feel it is important to get some of the facts straight: The cost of the panels was less than $5000, and some of that cost included the infrastructure (wiring, etc.) for the full system which will be installed over the summer—the originally scheduled installation time.

Our roof is absolutely not about to collapse. On the contrary, it is quite sound. Who would live in a home with a roof in danger of collapsing? It does, however, need new shingles—again scheduled for replacement this summer.


Nica was hardly embarrassed and does not consider this commitment and investment in her family’s future to be “eco bling.” It is a matter of not only being green, but also being practical and reducing the home’s energy costs.

Part of the reason the Flemings agreed to do a solar installation was to show how easy it was to take the panels off the roof. In Rob’s work he comes across many people who suffer from “eco-paralysis” because they are overwhelmed with trying to things the “right” way in the “right” order.


As for the financial investment for the small array we received an excellent price for the full system to be installed later.

As we move forward towards a greener future we need all need to learn to work together, avoiding divisiveness and criticism and begin to realize that there are many diverse paths to achieving sustainability – often requiring an open mind and a supportive environment.

We're just trying to do good stuff, Steve.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

It's All In The Spin!

OK. So our segment was on TV last night. 

We were a bit hesitant about letting folks know when the show was going to air, mostly because we had no idea how we would be portrayed on the show. For the most part it was pretty good. BUT ...

Steve tried really hard to make Rob look like some wild ec0-dude who is willing to go for anything whether it works or not. Is he passionate about sustainability? Absolutely. But "horny for green" is not how I would describe him. Steve did.  Rob is really one of the most cautious people I know. Sometimes that drives me crazy when I want to get things done around here.

When I checked Planet Green's web site today there was a story on our projects. The story is about how we were so anxious to get solar panels on our house that we were willing to live with an almost collapsing roof. Come on! I got more and more P-Oed as I read. I was in the middle of posting a comment but—I suppose because I was banging at the keyboard and muttering curses— Rob thought I should calm down first. My fingers couldn't keep up with my protest!  I can write here, though.

Why would we—or anybody for that matter—place basic maintenance, not to mention SAFETY, below "eco-bling" as Mr. Thomas called the panels. And just for the record, we did not want to do the installation before the roof or before the state's rebate program was finalized, but rearranged the installation of the small array because of intense pressure from the show's production company .  The upside is that we got a real discount on the full installation scheduled for the summer. I guess we were naive looked forward to being on the show. I'm calm now. 

Monday, April 13, 2009

And We're Back

Well that was a long break!
Reality TV is exhausting. We've spent the last few months recuperating. Seriously. And I'll never watch another reality show the same way—now that I've been "in the business."

Actually it was a lot of fun. Got my hair cut, wore make-up, and combed through my wardrobe to find the outfit that would look the most flattering (not fat) for me.  While Rob and I were totally into it, the kids were bored out of their minds. 

Besides having a camera crew in the house for a few days, there were also several construction crews going at the same time.

The Pellet Stove
Rob and I travelled a bit of a distance to pick up the pellet stove, but it was totally worth it. Installation took longer than we thought it would. 

Steve Thomas and our good friend Mark did the installation. Mark in fact may have more screen time that either of us. He was THE MAN. Of course it wasn't as straight forward as we thought it would be.  A portion of a load bearing beam had to be removed (the big square hole in the wall behind the stove was supposed to be a teeny weeny circle cut). 

I was half expecting the front of the house to come down as Steve cut through the beam. Happy on the outside, panicked on the inside—the camera was rolling after all. And then it took us a while to figure out how it worked. But after it got cranked up that baby was kicking out some serious heat!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Let the Fun Begin

The Pellet Stove
Comes Home

Tomorrow's the first day of shooting Renovation Nation. We've been a little—make that—a lot of crazy around here. I finally see why home renovation is one of the biggest sources of stress on a marriage. Good thing we like each other!

So, just since last week our segment was canceled, reinstated, projects changed, friends and neighbors recruited, permits acquired, solar panel companies changed, pellet stove purchased, bamboo harvested, bamboo cut to size and bamboo fence section built.

The pellet stove. I found a very nice one (brand new with factory warranty) online for half the normal cost. It's designed in Brazil and we loved it because of it's efficiency, design, and cost.

We were working with the manufacturer of two other leading brands, but in order to get us the teensiest discount they wanted the network (Discovery) to fly and put up one of their installers to basically do an entire promo on the show. So not worth it. 

The Bosca stove works nicely with our aesthetic—we didn't want one that looked like it belonged in a nineteenth century cabin. Not that there's anything wrong with the nineteenth century (actually, I can think of a few things off the top of my head) but that just isn't our style.

We've been really nuts getting ready for the show and the ever changing schedules. That's television. We finally have everything lined up, including the beginnings of a 4kw solar array from Solaris Energy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Bio-mass variety, premium grade pellets, battery back-up, ash removal systems, viewing area, efficiency, aesthetics (for Rob)—sheesh! Who knew there was so much to consider when it came to pellet stoves?? 

Well, several people, it turns out. Most notably, for this space anyway, is our friend Mike Cronomiz of Re: Vision Architecture. Mike helped me to sort out some of the questions I had in trying to find the right stove for our House of Bamboo

I've narrowed it down to a few models: The Harman Advance, the Quadrafire Classic Bay 1200, the Bosca 1500. These are all good stoves in their own ways. I can't wait to get one of these puppies fired up in the living room. The garage has been cleared for pellet storage. Hopefully we won't run into a pellet shortage. I've heard that there could be one since the new home industry is experiencing a slump (like everything else). Less new construction means less sawdust and other wood product waste. Of course this also means fewer trees cut. Quite the dilemma. Who knows. Maybe some time in the near future we'll figure out how to create fuel from our bamboo grove.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Deadlines and Options and Pellets, Oh My!

Nothing like a deadline to get your a** in motion!

Now that we have a date for Renovation Nation, we can no longer take our own sweet time to get the next project going. 

I'm now in high gear looking at pellet stoves and solar arrays. A pellet stove installation seems like the most pragmatic way to go: One item to install; fewer people needed; can be done in a day or two. Installing a solar array is way more complex, particularly with this kind of timeframe. Oh yeah, and we would also need to put up a new roof first.

My focus right now is comparing the many types of stoves available. We're definitely leaning more towards a wood pellet burning stove. It would be terrific if I could find one that also burns other types of fuel (corn, olive pits, etc.). Since the housing market slump began, it is been bandied about that the sawdust needed to make pellets will become scarce. The other option for a stove is a straight wood burning one. 

The downside to this option is that wood can be much more harmful to the air quality than pellets. The upside is that we could alway burn our furniture if we had to. So many things to consider. Nothing is ever just this way or that.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rob Fleming and Chris Pastore on Internet Radio

Well, I finally made it to the radio. Imagine a weekly radio show dedicated to sustainability. Nica thought it was pretty good and pretty funny. The podcasts can be downloaded at

Renovation Nation

Renovation Nation. That's where we've been living for some time. Now we'll have company. With a camera crew.

Renovation Nation is also the name of the green home renovating program on the Planet Green Network. The program is hosted by Steve Thomas, formerly of This Old House.

What company will we have, you ask (or maybe you don't)? 
Besides being a huge fan of home renovation shows—this one in particular—we've been selected to be a part of  an episode in the near future. You have no idea how hard I'm trying right now not to let my total geek-out excitement come through on this post. I like to think I come across as calm and level-headed in public so I save the geeking out for my immediate family. 

When I told my nine-year-old about appearing on the show she gave me this knowing look, then said, "this is like a dream for you, isn't it?"

Why, yes dear, yes it is.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Cosmetic Progress!

Finally, the holidays are over, and I have a minute to post new pictures before the new school semester begins in 13 hours.

Remember the truly grody kitchen? I'm pleased to say that the current state is much more enjoyable and doesn't make me gag. Not exactly mid-century modern, but sustainable products were used.

The floors are bamboo. If we could've only used the grove in our yard—that would have been super sustainable! Alas, we purchased these planks made from plants harvested after eight years of growth.

We went back and forth with counter material (I wanted Quartz, he wanted laminate). I read somewhere that it has been discovered that granite counters can off gas. Good thing we couldn't afford them! I found a manufacturer of bamboo countertops (Totally Bamboo), so that's what we went with. They're very nice. Warm. Very much like butcher block.

I decided not to use a toxic sealer, so every few months I spread pure tung oil on them. Try asking for tung oil at your local Home Despot (yes, I said Despot) and check out the puzzled looks you get.

The living and dining rooms are taking shape as well. So much has happened that sometimes I forget that we've only been here for six months. 

Below are some photos of the rest of the main level.

View from kitchen to dining/living area

View of entry way

Next month we'll be tackling a new roof in preparation for the solar array!