What About Yo’ Passive House?

I’ve been trying out a new approach to life lately. Instead of imposing my own agenda on life, I’m really taking the time and space to breathe and see what I truly want.

It’s been kind of like having a son and really, really wanting him to be a football star. But all he wants to do is play dress-up. So after agonizing over it for months, you decide to buy him a chest for all of his dress-up clothes and play dress up with him! Because as disappointed as you may be, you realize there’s NOTHING worse than him not being able to be himself.

I reached a point where I couldn’t pressure myself anymore, and I couldn’t imagine living any longer without making my own well-being a priority. Taking care of myself and living according to my own truth is the most meaningful thing I’ve ever found.

Work, travel, money, making other people happy- those are all things that matter to me, but not at the expense of myself.

I still believe in my Passive House dream, and I really want to build it. But I’m letting it happen in its own time, which if I had to guess would be another year or two. Building a house is really fun, but it’s also one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done (especially when it’s done to this standard). And right now I don’t have the energy to start building or to figure out the financing. We’ve finished the preliminary design phase, but I’ve put the final design phase on hold for a few months.

I feel very comfortable, safe and happy where I am, and to quote Kelly Clarkson, I’m just catching my breath.

I’m also working on growing my postural therapy practice, which I LOVE! It’s so fun to have found something I believe in and can share with other people while hopefully making a living (or part of one!) at the same time! Here’s a link to my last post about postural therapy and the Egoscue Method if you’d like to check it out.

Over the last few months, I’ve sort of redefined my priorities, and I’ve discovered that I have about 4 number 1 priorities:

SLEEP- Without at least 7-8 hours of sleep at night, I don’t feel positive about much else.

MOVEMENT- I’m so kinesthetic, and I need time everyday to do my postural therapy exercises and some other type of movement. Usually two hours a day broken up throughout the course of the day is the minimum, more on the weekends. I know that can sound like a lot, but our bodies were made to move a lot! So if I don’t get at least that amount in, it’s not long before I’m grumpy and in pain. And I love to vary what I do- one day I might go to a pilates class, another day I trail run, then I dance around my room or do handstands in the front yard another day. Swimming, biking, hiking or climbing on rocks are some other things I try and throw in the mix. I try to keep it fun and playful and make sure it doesn’t feel like punishment in any way. A lot of times I’ll pretend that I’m a five year old jumping around outside. I used to get discouraged if I didn’t have a gym to go to or people to exercise with, but a lot of times it’s enough just to turn on some music and hop around in my room for 30 minutes.

CONNECTION- I’m an introvert, and I love spending time by myself. But with too much time to myself, I start feeling disconnected from the people in my life. Especially now, since I’ve been making more time for sleep and exercise, I’ve cut out a lot of social activities. But I try to keep that balance because I know it’s really important for me to have fun and stay connected to my community and the people I care about. And it’s great when things overlap, like hiking or dancing with friends, or taking a walk with my sister or boyfriend.

WORK TO MAKE ENOUGH MONEY – This is something that can be very subjective, but for me it means having enough money to be responsible and cover my monthly expenses with enough left over for a modest travel and going out budget and enough to buy fresh, healthy food. What I eat is just as important to me as movement and sleep, and unless I start growing a lot of my own food, buying fresh, organic produce can get a little pricey! But I also see it as a charitable contribution in some ways because I feel like I’m supporting farmers and helping the planet in tiny ways!

There are other priorities that aren’t too far behind these, such as time for writing and creativity. Time for house cleaning and other necessary logistical things. Time to travel, explore, and learn new things!

There’s not a ton of time left over once all these things are done! But if I start to notice one or more priority being compromised on a regular basis, then I’ve gotten too busy! I know that life happens, and if emergencies arise, sick loved ones need my help, or the apocalypse happens, I’m sure these priorities could greatly change. But for now, as a general rule, these four things are crucial to my well-being. And if I can’t take my well being with me to the rest of my life, there’s not much else that makes sense!

Straightening Things Out -the Egoscue Method

I’m on a flight back from Colorado as I write this. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks hanging out with some friends and finishing the last part of a certification to become a postural therapist.

I’ve haven’t written about this yet, but over the last 9 months, I’ve been working on a certification to become a Postural Alignment Specialist in the Egoscue Method.
That’s a lot of words to basically say that I’ll be certified to work with people to help them get their body back into a functional alignment to stay out of pain and move without limitations.

I ran across a book in my chiropractor’s office a couple of years ago called Pain Free by Pete Egoscue. I had been in pain off and on for several years after a shoulder injury in high school, and I knew that I couldn’t rely on somebody else to fix me anymore. Seeing the chiropractor every couple of weeks wasn’t helping my pain anymore because I wasn’t helping myself!

As I started reading the book, I was impressed with how simple and logical the method sounded. Pete Egoscue was shot in Vietnam, and after being told that he would never heal completely and would always be in pain, he began to rehabilitate himself. After about a year of experimenting with his own body, he had made a miraculous recovery and through the process of his own healing, the Egoscue Method was born.

When other veterans saw his transformation, they begged him to teach them what he had learned and slowly the word began to spread.

The basic premise of the method, as Pete writes, is, “we can’t live without adequate motion, and our motionless lifestyle is nothing less than a slow death.” Up until some decades ago, our survival depended totally on movement. And now we can survive with just a few steps from the bed to the bathroom to the car to the computer. But we still have bodies that are designed to need the stimulus of motion, so we’re paying for our sedentary lifestyles with pain and dysfunction. Our movement deprived lifestyles have created dysfunctional bodies, so when we do try to move, we often end up hurting ourselves.

The Egoscue Method says we have to believe in our body’s amazing ability to heal itself. We have to first believe that we aren’t broken beyond repair. Then we have to take responsibility for our health and understand that no drugs, surgery or other people can fix what we can only fix ourselves. Egoscue recognizes that our body operates as a unit, so whatever happens in one part of the body affects the body as a whole. And when we are in pain, it’s our body screaming at us to pay attention.

The method is a system of simple stretches and exercises that uses gravity and flat surfaces like the wall or floor to help our bodies get back into a functional position. It uses a systematic approach of deliberate movements to remind the body of how it can and is supposed to function!

When I first began doing the exercises, I was amazed at the results! Within about 2 days, I felt 90% better and was able to start doing things I had quit doing because of the pain.

I’ve always wanted to make a living doing things that I most believe in. I want to share with other people the things that work for me in my own life, and I have a strong belief that we can’t compartmentalize our lives.

As I write this, I imagine people thinking: “Lauren, you’re all over the place! How can you build Passive Houses, be an interpreter, and a postural therapist? I thought you wanted to simplify your life. Can’t you just pick one thing??!” Or maybe it’s my own inner-critic that says that.

But the common thread is sustainability. I can’t work overtime on projects related to green living and sustainability, if my own health is deteriorating. That feels very hypocritical. I think that what we eat, how we move, how we treat the people in our lives, and the kind of choices we make in the products we buy and the buildings we build is all so important and inner-connected. I will never do it perfectly (just in case you see me next week on the street corner with a growler of beer eating Doritos!) but I’m interested in creating a mind-body practice where I work with people to better their quality of life while I work on doing the same thing in my life.

What I imagine my life looking like over the next few years is to continue working part-time as an interpreter, then to have a part-time mind-body practice where I work as a sort of life coach and postural therapist with people. And hopefully, I’ll have some time and energy left over to work on Passive House projects as the opportunity arises.

I’m really excited about the possibilities. I also will be working with a few people for free as I become more comfortable as a Postural therapist, so if you are interested let me know! And if you’d like more info. about the Egoscue Method, check out the book Pain Free or The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion by Pete Egoscue.

Obsessively Un-obsessing

I have a newfound commitment to not obsess about anything!

Which is interesting, because in the last few weeks I’ve cut my income by about 30%, and I’ve enrolled in a “plant-based” whole foods month long challenge. It seems like the perfect opportunity to get obsessed!

I have all this new time on my hands now; why not get crazy about couponing and all the money I should be saving. Growing my own food, so I can be a good plant-based student, while saving money!

It’s oh-so tempting. There are so many options and so much information out there-it’s hard not to get overwhelmed. It’s ridiculously hard to not constantly pound ourselves with a bunch of rules that somebody else came up with.

I think I’m ready to quit obsessing because I’m finally starting to believe that it doesn’t work. I don’t like rules that aren’t in my best interest. And if someone is telling me to eat kale (whether it’s an actual person or the voice in my head) when I’ve already had 12 servings of oil-free, salt-free, animal protein-free vegetables in 3 hours, I’m going to listen when my body screams “no!”.

I think the reason that diets or food plans don’t usually work is because someone else is making the rules for a body that’s not theirs. It’s because we’ve forgotten that we can trust ourselves.

Sure, there are general guidelines that are generally healthier for the general population. But if you’re forcing yourself to eat salad, when your body needs fat, that’s not healthy. No one can be inside you and say tomorrow at noon, you’re going to need x number of calories, or some vitamin D or calcium or sodium.

We have an innate ability to know what our bodies, minds and souls need. We know when we need green vegetables and when we need chocolate- we’ve just forgotten how to listen.

Our bodies’ signals have been so clouded by our dysfunctional pasts, our crazy culture, and the constant to desire to escape through food, alcohol, work or whatever. And so much of our food has become so distorted that it’s nearly unrecognizable as food. No wonder we’re confused.

But why do we keep doing crazy? Why do we keep relinquishing control over our own bodies and well-being to a set of external rules or to the voices from our childhood?

I think it’s because it’s easier in the short term. Because it can be a long, heartbreaking path to begin looking at why we do what we do. It’s hard to reconnect with a wisdom that we abandoned decades ago. We associate the familiar with survival, so we keep doing what we’ve always done. And maybe we’re scared of what we’ll find or of what we could lose if we really listen. Or maybe we’re scared of what we’ve already lost.

It’s been a process of several years for me, but I now know how to recognize what my body needs. The hardest part is really listening and then letting it shape my actions. Most of the time I don’t want to listen. I’m still scared of what could happen if I really pay attention.

But I no longer believe that someone else knows what’s better for me than I do.

So you may wonder why I’m even participating in this challenge if I don’t believe in rules.

It’s because in general I believe that a diet that consists of whole foods and that’s mostly plant based is what’s best for my health and the health of the planet. And because lately I haven’t been listening as well to what is best for me as I’d like to. It’s great to have a community of support and a place to share ideas and recipes. It helps me pay a little more attention to the choices I’m making about what I eat. I think challenges like this one can be helpful, as long as I use it as a way to support and encourage my own wisdom, rather than as a way to ignore it. Which is why I still eat meat or eggs or cheese a few times each week. Even though it’s not part of the plan, there are times when I feel like that’s what my body needs.

And sometimes I don’t care if something’s good for me or not- sometimes I get tired of being “good,” which is also ok, I just want that to be more the exception than the rule! And the more I make decisions for myself, rather than basing my choices on other people’s expectations, the less I need to rebel.

So when I feel those obsessions creeping in, I try and catch myself. I try and stop that voice before it totally grips me because I know now that obsessively worrying about anything, whether it be calories or money or whether or not the radio waves from my cell phone give me cancer, doesn’t help or change anything. It actually hurts. And it robs me of a whole lot of happiness in the process.

Finding Freedom in Impermanence

In her new book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, Pema Chodron writes about an author who talks about “humans as transitional beings—beings who are neither fully caught nor fully free…” Pema says, “I find it helpful to think of myself this way. I’m in the process of evolving. I’m neither doomed nor completely free, but I’m creating my future with every word, every action, every thought. I find myself in a very dynamic situation with unimaginable potential. I have all the support I need to simply relax and be with the transitional, in-process quality of my life. ”

Yesterday was my first day off without big projects to finish or open houses to plan. I felt like a combination of a giddy six-year old that was skipping first grade and an old retired lady who was scared of a boring, meaningless existence.

I have an intensely restless spirit, and whenever things calm down, I get terrified. Calm and peace are ideas that I love in theory, but in reality and in practice, they scare me. There’s something very exciting about running frantically from one activity to the next, which is probably why I’ve done it for so long.

Stress and busyness can be a huge distraction from dealing with our fears and the mystery and uncertainty of life. It’s scary to think about the impermanence of things. But I also believe there’s an unimaginable freedom that comes from facing it head on.

Even with my restlessness and the small internal war that was happening inside me, yesterday was an awesome day, and I hope to continue to ask myself the question, “Are you doing this because you love it and because it makes you feel more alive, or are you doing this to run from something that scares you?”

And I hope that once my life is centered around the things I love the most, rather than avoiding what I’m afraid of, maybe that’s where I’ll find the freedom I’m searching for.

I think there’s freedom to be found in accepting the human conundrum of being caught somewhere between complete freedom and complete stuck-ness! And it’s amazing to think about how we create our own futures with every moment we live, every belief we manifest, and every connection we make.

An ADD Kind of Life

A friend of mine posted a quote from the Dalai Lama recently:

“The planet does not need more ‘successful’ people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds. It needs people with moral courage willing to join the struggle to make the world habitable and humane and these qualities have little to do with ‘success’ as our culture is the set.”

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to reach a certain level of financial success. When I was 20, I planned on being a millionaire by the time I was 30. I’ve been investing and planning business strategies since I was 19, and it’s not because I’ve wanted more material things. I have everything I need materially. I think it’s because I’ve always associated money with freedom.

I thought that if I had a million dollars then I would be totally free. I would never have to depend on anyone or any job ever again. I’m 33 now, and I’m not a millionaire. But by pursuing this financial freedom and success, I’ve kept myself trapped.

I’ve been a prisoner for the last 12 years to my income and insane schedule. I’ve given myself plenty of time to travel and play, but even while I was playing, I never quit pressuring myself. The feeling of not having enough, whether it’s enough money, enough love or enough freedom, follows me wherever I go.

Another one of my favorite quotes from the Dalai Lama says:

“Man… sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

I know this quote has made the rounds and may even sound a little cliché, but it has definitely been true for me.

There were several nights while I was working on the basement that I felt like I was slowly killing myself. I loved working on the project, and I love working hard. But as I sanded countertops at 1 am, exhausted with lungs full of sawdust, I thought, ‘this pace isn’t sustainable.’ The pace I’ve kept for the last decade isn’t sustainable, and if I do it for another 2 decades, it will probably kill me. If I’m thinking about sustainable building projects and agriculture, I first need to make sure that I’m able to sustain my own health and well-being!

Since I finished the basement, I’ve decided to take 2 days off a week from my work as an interpreter to rest and maybe spend more time writing. In the meantime, I’ve promised myself that I won’t worry about money. The fear comes and goes. When I start to panic, I just remind myself that I won’t starve. My family will feed me if I run out of money; I can always start working more again if I need to, and I’m trying to have a little faith, faith that something unexpected will emerge if I just calm down and stop running.

It’s funny to watch myself on my days off. I start by stretching or meditating, and then my list gets longer and longer with all the things I “should” be doing. Everything from calling a friend or family member, to doing the dishes, to re-painting my whole house. I’ll sit down and meditate for a few minutes, and then I give in and start researching properties in Roebuck or I look up third world countries or organic farms I could volunteer for. It’s funny how crazy our minds are. They really don’t like to be still.

I know there are plenty of people who don’t have the luxury to take this time for themselves. Every situation is so individual, and many people have kids or elderly parents that depend on them-just health insurance alone can be insanely expensive. And a lot of the world is truly just trying to survive.

But I also believe that we often have more choices than we realize. We get so busy doing what we’ve always done that we forget we have a choice. When I work 50 hours a week, I go on autopilot, and I have no energy left to consider other options.

There are plenty of millionaires who feel broke and unhappy, which tells me it’s probably not about the money. When I look back over the last decade, no matter how much money I was making or not making, I saved and invested about the same amount every month. And I spent the rest. In college, I lived on $500/ month, granted I lived at home and my parents covered my insurance, but even without a mortgage and insurance, it feels impossible to live on that amount now. It’s interesting to see how our lifestyles often adapt to our income, so I’m curious to see if by working less, I might just naturally spend less. Or my ego might decide that it wants to prove to me that it can’t be done, and a peaceful life isn’t possible, in which case I could rebel and spend even more! Either way, it should be an interesting experiment.

Deciding to work part-time was a hard decision, but it feels like an important decision. It feels like I’m taking responsibility for my life. By taking more time to be passive, I’m saying that I refuse to be passive about the life I choose for myself. I’m making a commitment to not just complain about the things in my life that I have the power to change.

To quote Omar Khayyam, “this moment is your life.” This dysfunctional, hyperactive, attention- deficit disordered life of mine, is mine, and I really love it! I hope you love yours too!


A Basement Thank You

The basement’s finished! The last couple of months have consisted of buying materials, working ‘til 1 am, and having nightmares about falling walls and flooding houses. By the end, I was totally sleep deprived and exhausted. The total cost was nearly three times what I had budgeted, but it’s done and was still worth it!

I had a last minute open house last night because a tenant’s possibly moving in at the end of the week. Only a few people could make it out with about 5 hours notice and such dreadful weather, but it was great little intimate gathering!

Now that the craziness is over, I’m hoping to find some normal again! I was excited to work on a creative construction project, but I also wanted to use all the materials I’d been collecting over the years and create a space that would help cover some monthly expenses with its rental income.

Now, I’m trying to resist the urge to jump right into another project and take some time to look at what I might be running from by staying so busy. I’m going to take a day or two a week off work for a while, which kind of terrifies me financially, but I think it’ll work out.

It’s hard to change, especially when things work pretty well! But I know if I keep going like I have been for the last decade, I’ll miss out on a me that would be less tired, more compassionate, and more connected and giving to the people around me.

Check out the photos below. We finished just in time for my dad’s arrival from Seattle, so he had his own private suite for the week!

This venture was a humbling reminder of how hard it can be to do a truly “green” construction project in an efficient manner. For every zero VOC paint or recycled wood that we used, there was a trailer full of trash or a super toxic floor sealer to counteract it!

Here are some of the recycled things we were able to use:

All the cabinets, shelving, cedar trim, and many of the 2x4s used for framing were from remodeling jobs where they were about to be thrown away. We just primed and painted the cabinets and trim, and they worked great! The countertops are old wooden doors from the Habitat Store. We cut them to size, sanded them down and then I used an all in one Minwax brand Stain/ Polyurethane to stain and seal them. All for a total cost of about $20 bucks! I used a black stain on the main countertop and a golden oak on the island.

The kitchen island is made of some wall cabinets that we turned upside down!

The toilet was nearly new, also from a remodeling job and was about to be smashed to pieces.

I left the ceiling and 2 concrete walls exposed, so it saved on materials and labor and also made for a cool industrial feel.

All of the furniture is second hand, except the barstools, most of it I either used as a kid, or it was passed down from my grandparents. The white church pew came out of my grandparents church in Memphis, TN. The steamer trunk in front of the bed went with my great grandmother on a boat to China in the 20s! And the brass bed was my childhood bed that I used to do gymnastics on!

My mom, aunt, and grandmother took some old brightly colored curtains of mine and used them as fabric to make several beautiful pillows and a bench cushion for the church pew. Chris snatched some burlap coffee sacks from the Red Cat coffeehouse, and my mom turned those into some really cool pillows. And the bathmat is made from recycled t-shirts!

This has been such a group effort, and I’m so grateful for all the people who have helped me. I couldn’t have done this without any one of these people, especially in the timeframe I had to finish.

Christopher Davis has been so awesome, patient and helpful with anything I’ve needed along the way. He’s followed me around for countless outings to thrift stores and Lowe’s and put up with my obsessive question asking and list making. He was there to paint, make coffee for the workers and expertly clean off or organize anything that could be cleaned or organized.

Gabriel Villa Rojas is an amazing carpenter and an incredibly talented and generous human being. I have him to thank for many of the materials he salvaged from other jobs. He patiently stood by while I changed my mind countless times on things he had already nailed in place, and the trim work he did really brought everything together. I would recommend him in a heartbeat, so let me know if you need a good carpenter. (It may take him 6 months to get to it because he’s in such high demand, but he’s worth the wait).

Gabriel’s brother, Abel, helped me with all the plumbing, electrical, framing, HVAC work and hauling away of trash; he did a great job!

Ellis Hopkins is a talented concrete artist, who created the sealer with colorant that I used on the concrete floor.

Asdrubal Cruz, Moises Acuna, and Alexander Cruz along with a few other of their workers, would come to my house at 6:00 at night, after their day jobs to help me with all of the painting.

My mom, Beth, and her boyfriend, Carl Cummins, helped clean off furniture, cabinets, ceilings and stairs.

My roommate, Andy, was incredibly flexible and patient with the constant noise of jackhammers, nailguns and saws and with all the moving around of furniture, a chaotic garage and a house full of dust for two months.

So thank you again to everyone, and I hope you like the photos!










Finishing the Basement

I haven’t been blogging much like crazy this month, but I have been building a basement like crazy. I love it SO much! I don’t know what’s so exciting about building things, but I get giddy and end up spending hours researching products, picking out materials and working on the project.

I decided to finish my basement because, of all the different strategies I’ve dreamed up to reduce my expenses, so far it’s been the thing that’s worked out. I love it partly because it’s on a small enough scale that I can get creative without being totally overwhelmed by the 9 month commitment to build a whole house. And it’s really rewarding to see such concrete progress. Like Friday morning I don’t have walls, but by the afternoon, I did!

I’m hopeful that the rental income from this cool little basement apartment will take some of the financial stress away. Plus I just like creating spaces that I think other people will enjoy! I have fun imagining who might live down there and how they’ll (hopefully) love having access to the backyard and the garage.

I’ve been using as many recycled things as possible, like collecting 2x4s from different projects over the last few years. Some of them have warped, but we’ve still been able to use several of them. Gabriel Rojas (the most awesomest carpenter who’s worked with me on several projects and without whom I probably wouldn’t be in this business) would call me when they were doing demo work for a remodel job and say “hey, we’re about to tear up and throw away these perfectly good cabinets”, or “here’s a brand new toilet that’s about to get thrown away.” So thanks to him I’ve collected several materials over the last couple years to use in the basement. I’ve also got some old radiators from an old building downtown, that I’m going to try and use as a base for a bathroom vanity.

I’ve gotten some black slate on sale for the basement bathroom. I made a trip to Ikea for some light fixtures. And I’m thinking of using old wooden doors from the Habitat for Humanity store to make countertops out of!

Check out the pics below to see some before pictures and the progress we’re making!

When I built the house, I didn’t stub it in for a bathroom because I wasn’t sure where I would want the bathroom to be. So our first step was to rent a jackhammer, break up the concrete, dig down eight inches or so for the plumbing lines and then dig a 3 foot hole to put the tank with the sewage pump in! We laid the plumbing lines, connected them to the sewage tank, filled them with water to test for leaks, and then used bags of concrete to replace what we tore up!

We were then ready to start framing. We’ve nearly finished with the framing, which didn’t take long since most of the space will remain open. Soon we’ll start working to finish up the electrical and plumbing before we sheetrock. I’m hoping to finish up with the whole project sometime in January!

Gettin’ Techie with It

We’ve made a lot of progress with the house, although most of it has been in my head!  After the Passive House training, I had some important decisions to make before we could move forward with the design.  So I spent a couple of months mulling over different options and comparing prices.

I’ve decided to square off the house and remove the two bump outs that we had in the master bedroom and bath.  This will make it much easier to create a continuous air barrier and continuous insulation without any thermal bridging.

And it breaks my heart to say this, especially after writing a whole post about saving it, but after much deliberating and weighing options and prices, I’ve decided to take down the magnolia tree.  We were planning on putting the house on piers in order to not disrupt the root system of the tree.  The tree would have to be trimmed significantly either way, so the house could fit under it.  But I talked with a foundation company regarding the price, and the piers themselves would cost around $7-8,000, and on top of that we have to get a structural engineer involved, then pay for lumber for the floor joists and the cost of a finished floor.  All of which could cost three to four times more than using an insulated slab for the foundation.  Because the slab will be insulated, we can also use the concrete floors as our finished floor; it creates a cool, industrial look!  And we get the benefit of being coupled with the ground, which can help on heating and cooling costs since the ground is cooler than the air in summer and warmer than the air in winter. And unfortunately because of how far down we have to dig for the slab foundation, I don’t think the tree would survive the trauma to its roots.

A few weeks ago, I was at a gas station pondering my tree decision.  I looked over to my left and saw a big truck that said “Gil’s Tree Service.”  I remembered that they had taken a tree down for me when I was building my first home.  I stopped Gil and asked his advice on the Magnolia tree.   He went and looked at the tree and thought it would be a good idea to take it down.  AND he has a sawmill and can mill the wood from the tree so that I can use it in the interior of the home, either to do some cool trim details or possibly a whole wall of magnolia wood!  Knowing that helped me feel a lot better about the decision!

Another difficult decision has been deciding on the best option for domestic hot water.  The Passive House standard has mostly been used in cooler, dryer climates, so the challenge we face with building this kind of house in the deep south is heat and humidity.  We want the Relative Humidity in the house to stay between 40-60%, and some of the Passive Houses in the south have struggled stay in that range in the summer time.  The Energy Recovery Ventilator and the heat pump mini-split haven’t been quite enough to keep the homes cool and deal with the humidity in the middle of summer.

I’m hoping that I can use a heat pump water heater to help with that.  A heat pump water heater pulls heat and humidity out of the air and uses it to heat the water.  It’s kind of like a water heater and an air conditioner in one because once the heat has been removed from the air, it blows cold air back out into the space around it.  It can be 2-3 times more efficient than a standard electric water heater because it’s much more efficient to transfer energy or heat than to generate it.  And if it’s really cold in the winter, you can change it to electric resistance mode.  Currently the price of these water heaters is around $900, so it’s a pretty affordable option.  The question was then where to put this water heater. They recommend about 1,000 cubic feet of space, which we didn’t really have with our current design!  Originally the office on the first floor was going to be open to above, but we’ve decided to place a floor above the office space and use that as our mechanical room.  We can have the ERV, hot water heater and possibly the electrical panel in that room.

My hope is that the ERV and the mini-split, together with the heat pump water heater and the concrete slab coupled with the ground, will be enough to keep the house cool with the humidity levels under control in the summer!

For the insulated slab, we use a couple of inches of foam underneath the slab.  The foam acts as the form that you can pour the concrete into, and then the foam just stays in place after pouring and doubles as insulation!  We have a layer of poly that runs under the slab and comes around to be taped to the outside of the OSB sheathing, creating a continuous vapor barrier and an air barrier.

The wall that I plan on using for any construction geeks out there is a 2×6 stud wall on 2 foot centers, with dense packed cellulose in the wall cavity.  The OSB will be the sheathing that attaches to the outside of the 2×6 wall.  The OSB is then sealed with a liquid flashing called Prosoco, which creates an air and vapor barrier.

Attached to the OSB, we’ll have 3-4 inches of exterior insulation, probably Rockwool, which is made from industrial slag.  It’s a pain to install but it’s non organic, so it handles moisture well and doesn’t attract bugs because there’s nothing for them to eat! It can also be obtained locally because we have a manufacturer in Leeds!

On top of the Rockwool, we’ll have furring strips, (which are wood strips) that attach through the Rockwool to the studs, so that we can create a rain screen or drainage plain. At the bottom we’ll have a screen to keep insects out and towards to top of the wall, we’ll place another vent so that the air can circulate and dry out the area.  The hardi-plank siding will be attached to the furring strips and that’s it!

So next we have to figure out how to tie the roof into this wall system without raising the overall height of the house too much.  We could do an unvented roof, which means we just have to be extra careful about condensation issues.  We have to make sure that our dewpoint won’t happen on the interior of our house, creating a moisture problem. J

Rebecca is currently working on the window schedule, which is a list of windows and sizes that we’ll use in the house, so that I can get window pricing. I’m comparing prices with a few different window manufacturer’s. She’s also making the changes to the elevations and floorplan, so we can begin inputting all the data into the Passive House Planning Package software to make sure we’re on track with the Passive House standards!

Here are a few pics of some Passive House projects we saw when I went out to the Passive House conference in Boulder last month!  More to come soon!


Bloggin’ Like Crazy

Several friends and acquaintances of mine from the group, See Jane Write Birmingham, are participating in a month long “blog like crazy” challenge, led by Javacia Harris Bowser.  The challenge is to post meaningful content once a day for a whole month, which is definitely a challenge since normally I post more like once a month! Partly because it takes me so friggin’ long to write a post; I’ve written and re-written this paragraph about 8 times!   I’ve also been unsure of the direction I’ve wanted to take my blog, which along with being so busy, is another reason I don’t write more frequently.  I love sharing my struggles and triumphs because it helps me see where I’ve come from, and it helps me connect to myself and other people. After some out of town friends left this morning, I felt intensely lonely.  But as I sat down to write, the loneliness faded.  By writing and being part of this challenge, I feel connected to a whole community of women out there, many of whom I’ve never met.

I also know how much it’s helped me to read other people’s stories at moments when I’ve really struggled.  Today I am a pretty happy girl.  Most days I really do feel peaceful, content and centered.  I struggle with how to concretely create the life that I truly want, but I no longer live in a dark, depressed and hopeless world.  For many years, I wished that I had never been born.  Life felt like too much of a struggle, and I saw myself in a hole that I didn’t think I would ever climb out of.  But there were a few key people around me, one woman in particular, that consistently and lovingly held up the possibility of hope when I couldn’t believe in it myself.  And that was life changing for me.  It wasn’t a fast process, and I didn’t get out of that darkness as quickly as I wanted to, but I’m so happy now to not live in that state of constant misery.

I want to be a beacon of hope for people who can’t quite believe in it for themselves right now.  Because I truly believe that if we keep walking, if we keep putting one foot in front of the other, we’ll get where were going.  There have been many times in my life where it took everything within me to keep walking.  And I’m so glad I did, because now the peace and meaning I’ve found in my life is more than I ever could have hoped for.

I know this blog is about building a Passive House, and sometimes it feels kind of strange to one day post about such personal things and the next day write about how to build a super-insulated, air tight wall.  It might make more sense to have 2 separate blogs, but it’s about all I can manage to keep up with one.  So for now, I guess my techie construction friends will have to put up with some painfully introspective posts, while my other friends endure the occasional post about  ventilation systems and green building.  It’s a testament to me really because I’m all those things.  If I had a blog about only one thing, it would almost be hypocritical given how much I love variety.  It’s probably the thing that I love and hate most about myself.  The diversity of all that I do and the people that I’m around bring a true richness and excitement to my life, and it’s also what makes me feel scattered, overwhelmed and lacking in focus. That’s my journey, trying to live a life full of variety and meaning without being too stressed to enjoy it!  So I’m giving the blog like crazy challenge a shot.  I love the idea.  I’m not going to pressure myself into writing every day if I don’t have the time or don’t feel inspired.  But I’ll challenge myself to write more frequently this month.  Thank you for reading, and thanks for the inspiration, Javacia!

One Year Later

At many times a long the way I’ve wondered if change was possible. Sometimes my old beliefs and habits can feel so ingrained, that it’ll make me question whether or not humans are truly capable of change.

When I started this blog about a year ago, I was hoping to have my new home built by now, but more importantly I was searching for a shift within myself and a different outlook on life.

And a year later, I can honestly say that a lot has changed. My life has become less frantic, and I take time to do things that truly nurture me. I’m saying “no” a lot more, and I have a new overall commitment to my own well being. I cook healthy meals for myself. I take my lunch to work. I’ve reduced the amount of clutter and waste in my life. I take time to write. I spend time most days doing stretches and exercises that help me realign my posture and stay out of pain.

It’s amazing how good I can feel just by taking care of myself.

It’s very different than trying to force myself to live a “healthy” lifestyle or “be good” or “save the environment.” It really comes from a deeper place of wanting to truly live my life in alignment with what’s best for myself and the world around me. And I really don’t believe that those are two separate things. Of course I don’t do it perfectly (not even close!), and I don’t think I would want to. But I’m grateful for what this project is bringing me, and I hope to be able to continue sharing the things that are changing and the ways I hope to shape my professional life to line up with that vision as well.

I watched a you tube video this past week about a family of four who manages to only have one tiny bag of trash every few months. Here’s a link if you’d like to see how they do it.  They say that some people have criticized them and called their lifestyle extreme but that they are truly happier and healthier and their expenses have been reduced significantly by living this way!

Like with so many things, I don’t think it has to be all or nothing. I try to continually, gently incorporate smaller things into my life and see what habits I can gradually change. Things that feel really awkward at first, can become second nature over time. The last time I went to the grocery store, I looked at the conveyor belt and saw how nearly everything I was buying came in a package. So I’ve been saving my packages and buying more in bulk, using cloth bags to put the bulk items into. I keep a couple of tupperware containers in my car or purse to use as to go boxes at restaurants and take my water bottle at work, so I don’t have to use disposable cups. It’s fun; remembering is the hardest part! I’ve also been more conscious about only bringing things into my home that I really want or need. So just a few small changes at a time, that hopefully over a lifetime can make a difference!

Later this week I’ll write more about our progress with the house! I’ve been working on a few construction projects lately, so here are some photos from a Homewood bathroom remodel I just finished, and a screened in porch we tiled in Mountain Brook. In the bathroom, we used a low flow toilet and plumbing fixtures, an LED light fixture over the vanity, low VOC paint on the walls and ceiling, and we re-used the medicine cabinet over the vanity and painted it to match the vanity wood! All of these options were comparable in price to their conventional equivalent.

Here’s a link to my first post around this time last year if you’d like to read more about what this project means to me!