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Reading/Research » Our Sustainable Home
Browsing Topic: Reading/Research

Find a Contractor with Handy Canadian

February 8th, 2007

I stumbled across the Handy Canadian web site today, which appears to be a great way to find contractors to bid on your building project.

What’s great about this service is that it saves people’s time all around: Instead of telling every contractor about your project one at a time you can just post it once, let them form their opinion of it, and bid. The contractor saves time too: they can post all sorts of information about their background, the type of work they do, provide their references, etc. so you can get comfortable with who is bidding on your project.

Since the service is free for those proposing the projects, and you are under no obligation by posting your project there, there is really little reason not to do so.

I could be wrong, but I also find it more likely that contractors who choose to use a service like Handy Canadian that puts their company’s details in the spotlight, are probably far less likely to be of the fly-by-night ilk Mike Holmes has warned you about.

We’ll follow-up on this post to share our experiences with the service.

Posted by Colin
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Lumber Reference Guide

February 5th, 2007

CyberYard has a set of reference tools for looking up the qualities and uses for a wide variety of woods.

They also have a glossary of lumber terms and various calculators. Most of the functions of the calculators would be easier to perform on a hand held calculator, but the building charts at the bottom of that list could be useful.

Posted by Colin
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Books: Taunton Home Series

February 1st, 2007

I’ve just borrowed the Taunton Home series of books from my brother. Each book in the series is made for someone who plans to renovate a different part of their house or property.

The first book we’re going through is the “New Bathroom Idea Book“. Unlike the Susanka books we discussed previously, we didn’t see any rooms in the book that we found wholly pleasing. Instead we could only pick out bits and pieces of each room that we liked, but this is really almost as helpful.

The book also contains technical information that is quite valuable, for example:

“Bathroom fans are rated according to the volume of air they can move in cubic feet per minute (cfm) and by their noise level (in sones). A small 5 ft. by 9 ft. bathroom requires a fan capable of moving 50 cfm, while larger bathrooms may need a 90-cfm or 150-cfm fan. Steer clear of fans that have sone ratings higher than 3; they’re too loud.”

At $28 each, the books are quite expensive but worthwhile if you can borrow them from your local library… or brother.

Posted by Colin
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Energuide Energy Ratings

January 3rd, 2007

The government of Canada has an Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE) which, contrary to what you may have come to expect from your government, has a whole lot of truly helpful information to offer!

In particular, they have a library of consumer appliances, complete with their Energuide ratings. They also list available rebates, statistics, regulations, etc. The site doesn’t just deal with valuable information for energy conservation at home, but also for business and on the road.

Well worth a visit if you are concerned about your energy consumption!

Posted by Colin
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Good deals at/from Consumer Reports

December 4th, 2006

I had been doing some online research into various appliances when my googling landed me at the Consumer Reports web site. It’s a magazine I’ve known about forever, of course, but not one I ever considered subscribing to because, even though I usually do a ton of research before making a purchase, scouring through hundreds of magazines in hopes of finding a review of whatever I was interested in buying.

Enter: The Internet.

When I wasn’t looking, Consumer Reports went and got ‘it’ exactly right.

Their web site contains every impartial review they’ve published in the last 4 years (plus their buying advice guides, etc.). And the whole thing is searchable so you can find exactly what you need in seconds.

A significant portion of the site’s materials are absolutely free, but subscriptions to the full web site for a one year is just $26 (or $6/mo.)!

If you still don’t feel compelled to visit their site when trying to find the right gear to put in your home, then I should also mention their companion site: Greener Choices. Greener Choices deals specifically with those items that can help to conserve resources, including your cash; the reviews list the estimated annual cost of the energy that will be use to run the device.

This is so precisely the information resource I needed I am frankly, just a little stunned. The information on the Greener choices site is actually free, but is so relevant to me at the moment, I’m happy to offer them the very reasonable fee for the subscription to the regular magazine.

Posted by Colin
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All homebuilders should have a private blog

November 29th, 2006

Even if you don’t want to go to the trouble of having to write up your building experiences in syntactically correct detail, you might want to setup a blog for your own private use.

While building your own home, you will only have about 15,000 decisions to make before it’s done. Organizing this much information can be quite daunting. But blogging software such as WordPress and others have the ability to classify your posts into different topics, as you see in the sidebar. This can be a great way to save the myriad little ideas and discoveries you make while working on your project.

I’ve created a second WordPress installation elsewhere just to track all our bits of information in a self-structuring, searchable format. And since it isn’t for anyone’s consumption but our own, it doesn’t take as long to keep up to date as a public blog, like this one.

So when it finally comes time to, say, buy a refrigerator, I’ll be able to quickly search through and find everything I’ve found out thus far about fridges before making a final decision. Handy!

Posted by Colin
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Book: The Natural House, Daniel D. Chiras

November 21st, 2006

The Natural House, Daniel D. Chiras
ISBN: 1-890132-57-8

The first half of this book, while interesting, was dedicated to alternate forms of home construction (cob, rammed earth, straw bale, etc.) that aren’t of much use for our particular project; The city isn’t quite ready to have folks try out these methods in locales where their house can actually fall on another house.

But the second half is chock full of very practical suggestions to keep in mind when designing a house. One suggestion in particular came to mind yesterday, after our furnace received its winter maintenance visit.

“Don’t pay extra to give your heating contractor peace of mind.”

The technician indicated that our 26 year old furnace was putting out 90,000 BTU, whereas our small house probably needed 45,000 BTU “at the very most.”

According to the book (and as was apparently the case when our furnace was bought) most heating contractors will over estimate the amount of heating you need for your home. This happens, if not for the unscrupulous reason that they get to sell you a bigger furnace, because they don’t want your furnace to be unable to adequately heat your house.

But consider this: when have you ever encountered a house who’s furnace couldn’t heat the house? Indeed, it probably stayed off most of the time and came on from time to time to blast the temperature up a couple of degrees and then shut down again.

This can’t be more efficient than a system that runs steadily. To my thinking, a furnace which is the ‘right size’ for your house is one that has to run constantly on the coldest day of the year to keep your house at a comfortable temperature.

And what happens if you have an unusually cold run of weather for your region? It’s not as if the furnace, unable to maintain 22°C will drop to 0°C. If it can’t keep up, it might become 19°C and you’ll have to put on a sweater, or run an electric space heater when and where you need it.

Obviously electric heat is expensive, but just think how much is wasted by running an over-sized furnace every winter, compared with running an electric heater for a few hours on a couple record-breaking cold days in a rare extra-cold year?

But I think I’ve digressed…

The Natural House also covers topics on insulation, window technologies, flooring, non-toxic paints, solar electricity, solar water heating, and much more. It’s a great read for anyone trying to get to the crux of what they need to know about the materials that go into their home.

Follow-up: Properly sizing mechanical systems

Posted by Colin
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