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Our Natural Home

Our Natural Home

Over the last year (2010-2011),we built (with the help of many contractors) our new,Certified Green Home in the community of Hidden Springs,Idaho. It was a challenging and great learning experience and many of you (my faithful friends and followers) have watched the processes with us. Now,I am collecting all those previous posts on Green Building into this page here on Natural Mom,Healthy Child. Thanks for making this journey with us!

Stage 1:Community

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It was a daunting and scary decision to build a new home mostly because of the extra time,stress,and expense. We could have gotten a lot more house for our money buying something already built or in a subdivision already under development,but we decided it was more important to 1) have the size lot we wanted,2) keep our chickens,3) create a home with better air quality,and 4) be part of a community. Also,Green Building has been a hobby of mine since college and it will be a great challenge to try and apply some of that knowledge. When our realtor showed us this lot in Hidden Springs,ID,we both felt instantly that it was the right choice.

I thought I would share our experience and decisions step by step throughout this page,starting with why we chose this community. The founding principles of Hidden Springs are:Rural Character and Farming Traditions;Small Town Atmosphere;Natural Environment;Traditional Homes;Quality of Life and Healthy Living;Education;Diversity;and Values to “create a community that will provide enrichments,enjoyments,and value for many generations to come.”(Quote from Hidden Springs website) All of which sounded good to us.

Hidden Springs is centrally located for our life in Boise and about 20 minutes from the kids school,our church,my parents,and downtown. For us Hidden Springs offered the benefits of a small farmstead and town community without the upkeep or having to sacrifice one for the other. We were able to purchase a larger lot (about a half acre,but about .3 acres is flat with the rest up the hill) which will give us room for a few chickens,small orchard,and garden sufficient for our family. And yes a house. In addition,the Hidden Springs Community has it’s own Village with “a convenient post office,general store (The Dry Creek Mercantile),as well as community library,a selection of commercial businesses,and offices,a preschool,elementary school…”There are two community swimming pools and workout facility,the Community Barn,Schick-Ostolasa Farmstead,and 10-acre Farm managed by Peaceful Belly Farms. Not to mention,the 800 acres of open space including trails,parks,and wildlife corridors. I could go on and on,so if you want more information,check out their website, Hidden Springs,ID.

We felt Hidden Springs was a good fit for us because of it’s combination of rural and village living;the organic farm that we can be part of;it’s chicken friendly environment;the open spaces;and community activities. Also,as I said,it is centrally located for our lives here. It will be more driving than I was used to in Sacramento,but if we chose to live closer to the school we would be 30-40 minutes from my parents and church as well as in the middle of subdivisions with very small lots. And if we lived near the church and parents,it would be 30 minutes to school every day at least 2 times a day,that’s way too much driving for me. So we decided on something a little in between and are happy here in our little community of Hidden Springs.

Stage 2:Green Builder

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Here is a picture of the foundation when it was poured for our new house. The progress in December was slow due to weather and the holidays. But that’s OK by me. I had sooooo many decisions to make in the next months,I needed the extra time.

After we chose a community,the next step was to choose a builder. In order to choose the right builder,we needed to have a clear idea of our basic requirements for our house. Here are our requirements in order of importance:

1) Reduces Toxins:Notice I did not say No-Toxins. I don’t know if it is even possible to build a no-toxin home,but I do know we could not afford even all the non-toxic items that I know about. So we had to prioritize what materials we have to have non- toxic and those we can compromise on.

2) Energy Efficiency:This helps to reduce energy consumption and therefore living costs to heat and cool the house over the lifetime of the house.

3) Responsible Materials:It is important to me that we make an effort to use as many sustainable materials as we could within budget to build our house. There are many,many options for building materials,and their costs vary just as much. You cannot just consider the raw material and raw material costs,but must also consider the costs of transportation,installation,and disposal.

I will go more in depth in all of these areas in later sections,but for now these were Mark and my criteria for building or house and therefore choosing a builder. We met with and talked to many very good builders in the area. All of whom were willing to work with us on our “green building”concepts. But Scott Flynn of Flynner Homes was the only one we met with that already incorporated many of these concepts and materials into his homes. Therefore,many of these items were already included in his bid and vendors which keeps the costs down. We met with Scott twice and Mark and I both felt we were talking the same language. As you can see from this email interview I did with Scott for my blog:

Q. Why do you choose to build certified green homes?

A. Certified green building is the most credible system of construction any builder can provide for their client. It not only provides the homeowner with piece-of-mind that their house is being constructed to the highest industry standards,but allows the builder to prove to the homeowner that they are living in a healthy,high-performing home.

Q. What do you think are the three greatest benefits to building green homes?

A. Generally,all benefits of certified green building are covered in one of these three topics:

  • Protects the health of the homeowner’s family
  • Protects the health of the environment
  • Protects the health of the homeowner’s wallet

Q. For those who cannot build certified green homes,what are a few of the most important green techniques that can be incorporated into any home?

A. As for energy efficiency techniques for existing homes,we have what we like to call the “low-lying fruit”,which are ceiling &floor insulation,ducting sealing,and air sealing. These three areas will give the homeowner the largest increase of energy efficiency for the least amount of costs. Other techniques are insulating exterior walls,upgrading the furnace,and installing new windows.

Q. What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as a green builder?

A. That’s easy,landing you and Mark as one of my clients! As far as houses constructed,the 2010 St. Jude Net-Zero Energy Dream House. To build a house that produces as much energy as it consumes is the ultimate goal of any green builder. Plus it raised more than $700K for the children of St. Jude. As far as my on going accomplishment,that would be educating our community on the healthy benefits of building to certified green standards. Education is my biggest challenge and is on the forefront of my career’s agenda.

As you can see from this interview,building a Certified Green Home seemed to meet all our priorities. And since Scott Flynn (Flynner Homes) is the only Certified Green Builder we met in Boise,it was a no brainer! But all joking aside,we felt that we were on the same page with Scott from the beginning and it was a relief to not have to educate our builder and their vendors on the green building practices. Many of the green practices are already standard,for example:

1) Reducing Toxins:Flynner Homes uses a formaldehyde-free blown in insulation,their cabinetry vendors have a formaldehyde-free option for cabinets,and the woodworking vendors have water based alternatives for staining,etc.

2) Energy Efficiency:Energy Star requires a building be 15%more efficient than code and Flynner Homes’ average is 30% better than code.

3) Responsible Materials:Flynner Homes standards is to use a 2×6 construction (instead of the standard 2×4 construction) which reduced the amount of lumber used. Flynner Homes uses James Hardie Siding. James Hardie Siding is a Fiber Cement Composite which is sustainable for many reasons:natural raw materials,durable,low maintenance,recycled content,and a better building envelope.

Bottom line,Mark and I decided to build a Certified Green Home with Scott Flynn of Flynner Homes because we had the same priorities and believed we could build be house we want,need,and love within our budget.

Stage 3:Floor Plan

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By mid-January (picture above) they were able to get the framing up despite the hard winter weather. The first decision we had to make after choosing a builder was whether or not to hire an architect. This was a hard decision because it costs more money,but at the same time it is such a HUGE endeavor not to hire an expert. After sorting though many,many books and magazines of floor plans,I finally found a floor plan I thought I could work with. In addition,our builder has designed homes in the past for his clients,so we decided to dive in and try it together. This was nerve racking for me,but I had lots of support from friends and family in reviewing and commenting on the plans as they evolved. Now that the process is completed,I would highly recommend hiring an architect! I love our house,but I really could have used an expert to rely on and think of all the things I don’t even know about,in advance! Giving me more time to make such permanent decisions.

Once we saw the lot in Hidden Springs,I knew it was perfect for a Farmhouse and an Orchard or Farmhouse style is required. But first we had to pick a floor plan because you can put almost any outside on any floor plan. In the beginning,we wanted a single story 3 bedroom at least 2 bathroom floor plan with a basement or second story bonus room. But we could not afford it because first floor square footage is SO much more money than a second story. In the end,we settled to have the Master Bedroom/Bath and Guest Room/Bath on the second floor with everything else downstairs.

I found a floor plan I liked in a book called The Big Book of Small House Designs:75 Award-Winning Plans for Your Dream House,All 1,250 Square Feet or Less published by Black Dog &Leventhal Publishers,Inc. All the floor plans in this book are under 1250 square feet. I liked this because I could tinker with it and still add 1250 more square feet. We knew the house had to be under 2500 square feet because of costs. And going from basically 1500 to 2500 seemed like a big enough leap for us. After many months of tinkering,here is the final result.

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I think the biggest difference between this floor plan and most of the houses designed today is that it does NOT have an open floor plan or great room (where the kitchen,dining room,and living room are all open to each other). I have a lot of trouble living in open floor plans because of the additional noise. I especially cannot handle all the noises of the kitchen (dishes,pots,pans,fans,etc.) competing with all the noises of the living room (TV,music,games,children,etc.). So I purposely did not want the kitchen open to the living room.

I also wanted the kids room on the first floor. After living with two stories at my parents house,I find that I ran up and down the stairs constantly and 99% of those trips are for something to do with the kids. I figured I can live with my room upstairs. I might even enjoy being able to escape if necessary. We did put our bedroom at the back of the house,so that if the kids are in the back yard we can still see them. All the main living areas also face the back yard for that reason.

Another important feature for me is the centrally located fireplace. I find fireplaces so comforting,I wish I could have one in every room,but since I can only have one,I liked the idea of it being the center or the heart of the house. The double-sided fireplace between the living room and entry way will provide some drama when you enter the house and warmth when lounging on the sofa. This layout does not place the fireplace and TV on the same wall,which is also different than most houses today. But I like to sit by the fire and feel it’s warmth,not just look at it. My dream is to eventually use the entry as a library or music room with the piano,desk or bookshelves,and cozy seating,but that is still just a dream…

Another of my favorite features is the covered porch off the kitchen and laundry/mud room. This patio is sheltered enough to enjoy most of the year,to cool off a hot summer day,or warm up on a cool autumn night. It also can act as an extension of the mud room for our gardening gear. There will be a shelf under the kitchen window to act as a pass through for entertaining on the porch.

I think the most awkward thing about this plan is that there is only one bathroom on the main floor. But we did not have the money,nor the nerve,to design a 4 bedroom 3.5 bath house. So everyday guests will have to share a bathroom with the kids. We have always done it before and I think we can manage.

Our desire in designing this house is to have a house that is not too big,not too small,flexible,comforting,and welcoming. Time will tell how well we succeed!

Stage 4:Style

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Before February,all the framing was completed for the house. This is when things really begin to move! It’s a whirlwind of electrical,plumbing,lighting,and landscaping as we move into the next phase. I mentioned before that we decided on a farmhouse style or barn style for the facade of the house. This style tends to be simple and symmetrical with a series of small out buildings grouped or in our case attached together. I looked through many books to get inspiration and help with decisions (see RESOURCES below).

We chose a concept that includes a two story farmhouse with an attached outbuilding (laundry/mud room) and attached barn (garage). It took several versions to get the windows symmetrical,the porch width correct,and the roof lines right,but we eventually settled on the design below. We had to go to the Hidden Springs Design Review Board to get approval before we could build. Through this process and their suggestions,we ended up refining the design further. Two of the most influential of suggestions was on the siding and the garage.

The original siding design was horizontal. I had not considered vertical siding,but after the suggestion was made I began looking around for buildings with vertical siding. Most of these buildings were barns and warehouses. There were only a few houses with vertical siding. But that added to the rural look and I also liked how it raised the eye on the facade and made the house look less “squatty”. Once the drafters changed it on the plans,I knew that it was the right choice.

The garage originally was shorter and did not include the false hay loft. The Hidden Springs guidelines discourage forward facing garages,but with our design and the width of our lot it was not possible to have a side entry garage. So we raised the roof of the garage to make it look more like a barn (and also gave us extra storage area above the garage). We also designed the driveway and front landscaping to help minimize the view of the garage door from the street.

Some people look on design review boards as just another hurdle to be jumped,but I have found them to be very helpful in thinking through the design and looking at it from another view. This design had been a real collaboration between owner,contractor,and design review board and I am grateful for it. So here it is…

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Stage 5:Structural Materials

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There are many details that are different in building a Certified Green House,but they all revolve around the basic principles of conserving resources:energy,materials,and (I am going to include) chemicals. It maybe impossible to live an active life in our society and avoid all potentially harmful chemicals,but we can do our best to limit,or conserve their use,especially in our own homes. The biggest road block is,as usual,money. So we will be making the best decisions we can within our budget. But lucky for us,we hired a builder to make most of those decisions for us,especially when it comes to the materials used in the structure of the house.

So for the blog I asked Bill Haas,Project Manager with Flynner Homes,to explain some of the basic differences between a Certified Green Home and standard construction practices. There are so many details this post could have gone on forever,so I asked about a few particular areas:

What are the differences in building the shell of the house?

We build with advanced framing. Which is 2′on center,open corners and channels,and box style headers. This way we can get insulation in the headers and all the way to the corner,which all helps to minimizes thermal bridging. We also build with pre-engineered trusses. The use of pre-engineered trusses allows us to keep the cost down from building the roof by hand,or hand stacking. Hand stacking is a very labor intensive process and material costs are higher. On the green side pre-engineered materials improves our Resource Efficiency,referred to as prefabricated components.

In addition,we seal between all studs in the framing process. This is part of the air seal package that seals the multiple studs from allowing air to past by. By doing this extra sealant work it helps us get your home as air tight as possible,which in turn improves our energy efficiency.

The insulation is what we call a BIB or Blown in Blanket. This will increase our R-value from R-19 (code) to an R-23. A formaldehyde free blown in fiberglass insulation is used. The windows are rated at a U-factor of .35 or better to meet Energy-STAR requirements for 2010. The lower the U-factor the better R-value for the window and performance of the glass.

James Hardie siding is used on our homes for several reasons. The number one benefit is the durability of the product. This is a fiber cemented product that is also fire rated for the exterior wall system. The warranty on the siding is a 30 year non-prorated. At the James Hardie plant they have come up with a process to recycle 95% of the water that they use to manufacture the product,thus contributing to our Green classification.

Note from Kate:I was concerned about the use of fiberglass insulation,not because it has harmful chemicals,but because it is made out of tiny little pieces of glass. Fiberglass is not toxic,but the little chards of glass can be harmful to your lungs if breathed. After researching this issue,I determined that this is only a real risk when the air conditioning duct system start to deteriorate. Since this was the most cost effective way to get non-toxic insulation,we decided to use it and have the duct systems checked every 5 or so years.

What is the differences in energy usage?

In addition to the air seal package and additional insulation,we right size the heating/air conditioning equipment,which means we place information into a computer program which will tell us the proper size of equipment that needs to be installed in the homes. In your home we have upgraded the furnace to a 96% efficient unit,and we have zoned your system to separate the upstairs from the down. This allows for a more even temperature through out the house. At least 50% of all bulbs in the house need to be CFLs (compact florescent lamp) which are more energy efficient. The only changes to the plumbing are to keep the water heater within 40 feet of all faucets and use low flow fixtures and toilet tank capacities,which give us the water conservation involved with Green Building.

Note from Kate:We chose a tankless hot water heater. These water heaters use less energy by not storing a large tank of water,but heating it as you need it. The draw back to this instant hot water,as pointed out by our builder Scott Flynn,is that it is easy to over use water. Such as taking too long a shower because the water never runs out. This is something that we will have to be aware of,but I still prefer the tankless system.

Scott Flynn also provided me with the estimated cost savings of building a more efficient home. According to their calculations building this highly efficient 2427 sq. ft. home is only costing us $352.40 extra,which after financing over 30 years is about $720.32 extra. But the predicted utility costs savings are estimates at $544.79 per year. So you can realize the costs in just 2 years. With a projected savings of over $25K over the life of the mortgage.

Note from Kate:These numbers are only taking into consideration the additional insulation of the house,not additional costs for non-toxic products. But still the energy savings will pay for those additional costs in just a few more years!

Any other important features?

Our building the process is 3rd party verified,which adds credibility that we are doing what we say and complying with theNational Green Building Standards.

Note from Kate:This last feature is very important to me. I do not have the expertise to recognize,identify,and verify all the materials going into our home. We,like most others,are dependant on the honesty of the builder. But the third party certification provides us with additional security that our home will be all we envision it to be.

After the house was completed Flynner Homes provided us (and all their clients) a Certified Green Home Manual. The Manual gives us information on almost all of the products used in our home (manufacturers,green certification (if any),Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS),and suggested maintenance. Through this manual I learned a few more interesting green aspects of our home. For example:

  • Slope and soil disturbance were minimized in site design and construction,natural contour/features of the lot were followed,not fought.
  • The subflooring,I-joists,and framing materials,are not only energy and resource efficient,but Sustainable Forestry Initiative certified and made with low-emitting and water based resins (low formaldehyde).
  • Many of the materials made with recycled content:walls &roof sheathing,floor insulation,carpet,and particle board.
  • Low VOC adhesives and sealants were used.
  • Recycling of excess construction materials and waste.

So this section may have been more technical than you wanted,but I was hoping to convey the more practical side of building green. There are so many materials that go into building a home that monitoring them (for toxins and efficiency) can seem daunting. And it is,but I am very thankful that we had experienced and knowledgeable builders we can trust with our home.

Stage 6:Finish Materials

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Now,we get into the fun and overwhelming stuff! There are so many options at so many price points,I would not have known where to start without help. And thankfully Flynner Homes has a wonderful arrangement with Chris Woods at Majestic Flooring and Design here in Boise. I could have never done it without his help. From flooring to paint colors Chris has been a wonderful help in pulling everything together. So I chose to interview Chris for this my blog on the finishes:

1) How long have you been working with Flynner Homes and what do you like about it?

5 years –Scott Flynn’s &Bill Haas’s dedication to perfecting the process in which they build homes. Their overall concern for their client’s needs and their on-going effort to educate themselves and all the subs that make up the Flynner Team.

2) What are some of your favorite “green products”?

Marmoleum,Shaw’s Anso Nylon Carpet,Caesarstone countertop &Anderson Hardwood

3) Do you find it harder to design when you are limited to “green”or non-toxic materials?

No,as the world demands,manufacturers in all industries are constantly moving forward in a “green”market by developing products and processes with our environment in mind. From post-consumer recycled content to more energy efficient methods of manufacturing their products. Ever expanding product lines are being introduced to a “green”hungry consumer each year,making products more readily available at a very competitive price.

4) What do you enjoy most about working on the St. Jude house?

What I love most is being able to give back to the community in a way that I am so passionate about. I also love the work-site environment that working on the Dream Home creates,everyone is so humbled and recognizes the honor of getting to be a part of this wonderful charitable event.

5) Anything else you think s important to know when trying to have a “green”or non-toxic home?

I would just add that when trying to achieve a “green”and “non-toxic”home you must keep in mind all chemicals being brought into the home,not just the obvious ones. Indoor air quality is just as important,if not more,as energy-efficiency.

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Finishing Our Home

Thanks to Chris for providing his perspective on green building,and to finish this section I thought I would go into a few details about the choices we made for our new home. Like Chris I think it’s very important to know what we are bringing into our home,but because we do not have an unlimited budget,we had to make some compromises. But here is how we chose and why:

Flooring - We have four different flooring types in the house:hardwood,carpet,marmoleum,and tile. The downstairs is almost all hardwoods. This was very important to me because of the kids allergies. I did not want wall to wall carpet in the kids rooms. There are two types of flooring to look at when considering hardwoods. Anderson Flooring makes a zero-VOC (volatile organic compounds) engineered hardwood floor that was very tempting,but a little more expensive. And a little more expensive over a lot of flooring was not in the budget. So we compromised on traditional hardwood floors (Indigenous and FSC certified) with a low-VOC water based natural finish. The lighter the finish,the less staining and the lower the VOCs.

The stairs and the upstairs bedrooms are all carpeted. This was another place of compromise. I really wanted wool carpet (or hardwood),but again it did not fit into the budget. So we compromised on the Shaw Anso carpet that is made from recycled content (plastic bottles) and is recyclable (in some areas). But we did not compromise on the carpet pad. We chose the Healthier Choice Pad which is the lowest VOC pad on the market (also recyclable). I believe the foams in a house (and you would be amazed at how many their are if you add them up) are one of the worst contaminates for indoor air quality. Every time you push,step,sit on them they release gases. So I want those gasses to be the least toxic I can find.

The laundry room floor and two of the bathroom floors are Marmoleum. Marmoleum is a naturally derived linoleum (contains recycled content). It is also durable (used often for commercial use) and can be purchased in large sheets which I like because their are no (or fewer) seams to trap dirt. It also comes in many,many great colors and patterns. The only room with tile floors is the master bath and that is because I decided I wanted a classic looking checker board pattern. I don’t normally like grout on a floor,but I thought I could handle it in this small area.

Cabinetry and Counter Tops –For cabinetry,Flynner Homes works with Chris Dewitt at Western Idaho Cabinets,and I am so thankful. Chris and everyone I met there was very helpful in designing a wonderful kitchen. Really I spent 99% of my time with them on the kitchen. The laundry room and bathrooms were really an after thought. Best of all they offer Low-VOC materials (plywood) and finishes (stains).

There are a million options for countertops (at least it feels that way to me). There are laminate,natural stone (including granite and marble),ceramic and porcelain tile,glass tile,and various composite solid surface materials (from paper stone to quartz composited). The most popularly used in kitchens today is granite. And it has many advantages,including price because of high competition. But I chose to save even more money here and go with tile. I am not a big fan of grout,but we have chosen a slate colored porcelain that comes in huge tiles that will be placed as close together as possible in a dark colored grout. This will first minimize the amount of grout and second,because of the color,minimize staining. The tiles I chose contain >40% recycled content. You can get more “eco-friendly”ceramic or porcelain tile with higher recycled content,but the air quality issues are the same and they cost a lot more. But we did decide on a granite slab for the bar area which separates the kitchen and dining room. This gives it a little more formal feel from the dining room view and provides a nice surface from which to serve.

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I did want a solid surface for the laundry room and bathroom counters. In the laundry room I wanted inexpensive and durable,so we are using the same Marmoleum on the counter as on the floor. For the bathrooms,we looked at many of the new “green”and non-toxic composite options but they were all more expensive than marble or granite. I knew I wanted a light colored surface,so we ended up with classic looking carrara marble (that’s the white marble with the grey going through it). I did not consider laminate. Many of the laminate as marketed as “green”because the use so much recycled content,but it is still plastic and has the corresponding VOC emissions.

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The tiles in the showers are classic white ceramic tile (contains about 30% recycled content,but the down stairs bathroom has this beautiful glass tile accent. Again,you could go with a “greener”recycled glass tile for twice as much money,but there is no difference from an indoor air quality perspective.

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Painting - Because I am so sensitive to light and color,choosing paint was harder than it had to be. The outside was easy,all white house with a barn red garage (Sherwin Williams),but the inside was a challenge. First,I recommend choosing your paint brand first. We needed a brand that offered a good low-VOC paint and had colors we liked. Once you choose a brand,I recommend choosing colors within their existing formulas. Everyone you talk to in the painting industry will tell you they can color match,but I don’t like color matching. I don’t think the colors ever come out exactly the same and this makes it very hard to touch up later. We ended up choosing Benjamin Moore paints for the interior.

Recently,an article came out in Mother Earth Magazine about the chemical, propylene glycol and glycol ethers (PGEs),which is used in Low and No-VOC paints are linked to higher probability of allergy and asthma in children. CLICK HERE to read full article. Unfortunately we had already chosen and bought most of the paint before I read the article,so I asked the naturopath for advice on this problem. Do I need to change paint now? She suggested putting real vanilla extract in the paint (about 1/4 tsp per gallon) to reduce odors and before we move in,and to set out bowls of white vinegar to absorb indoor air pollutants. I haven’t been able to find research supporting this technique,but it worked well for us!

Lighting and Appliances - The choices of lighting are endless and very much subject to taste,but as far as being “green”we had to make sure that at least half of the bulbs in the house half the be CFL (compact florescent lamps). The same is true for appliances,the main factors in these decisions in first purchase as many Energy Star Rated appliances as are available,such as dishwashers,refrigerators,freezer,and clothes washer. The rest is based on our needs and budget. We ended up with mostly GE appliances in the kitchen based on the consumer reports reviews,utility,and price.

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Stage 7:Landscaping

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It was a long time waiting (because of rain) to get the yard graded and begin the landscaping,but it eventually dried out enough to begin. The lot is rather large (about 1/3 of an acre to landscape,minus the house) and we had our wish list of features for our dream yard,but needed someone to help us put it all together.

The first thing we did was interview four different landscape architects. We gave them a copy of the lot site plan with the house on it;a description of where it was (topography,etc.);and key features we wanted for the yard (orchard,garden beds,greenhouse,lawn,play area,etc.). Then we let them make suggestions on how to incorporate the features we wanted and,of course,discussed their fee structure. We ended up choosing Chuck Edwards with Breckon Land Design,Inc. because we felt he had a good blend of form and function. Some of the designers were too invested in design and how it looked,but not as concerned about where the plants would grow best. Then some were overly concerned with soil and grading (don’t get me wrong,they are important,but there are other things to talk about). Chuck seemed to have a good knowledge of the Hidden Springs area,what grows there,native and HOA approved plants,and a wonderful artistic side. Also,his fee structure is straight forward and you can choose how much or how little he is involved.

Chuck has a method and plan for approaching the design:
1) We met to discuss further what we want (functions) of the lot and went onsite to get a sense of grade and neighborhood.
2) Based on our discussion,he then comes up with four different concept designs and presents then to us.
3) After we took some time to digest the designs,we met again with Chuck to tell him which features we liked best out of all four designs. For example,we may have liked the front yard of the first design,but the garden area of the third,and the outdoor kitchen of the second.
4) He took our comments and created a final design. While he was doing that,Mark and I looked through plant books to decide on the kinds of plants we might want. Chuck also gave us a book to go through the local plant species.
5) Once the final concept design was done,we met with the HOA to get their approval and any comments,before making more changes to the plan.
6) Then Chuck took all final comments combined with the list of plants we like and created the final landscape plan. So here it is…

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As you can see (or maybe not) it has everything we could dream of:The apple orchard in the front yard;a large fenced garden bed area in the back;a space for an outdoor kitchen and firepit,a space for play equipment;and a large lawn for the kids to play on. (The front yard is on the right facing east). One thing we did not do was give Chuck a budget on what the installed yard should cost. I think this was discouraging for Mark (once the final estimates came in),but I actually did not mind it because I wanted a plan for my “dream”yard. And that is what we got. Now,we will not be able to install all of this plan (now or maybe ever),but we can pick and choose how and what we hire landscapers to install,what we want to do ourselves,what we install this year,next year,and what we can live without.

So the question is how can landscaping be “green’? I think it starts with design:creating something that is functional for the home owner as well as beautiful. Something that will require only as much maintenance as the homeowners are willing to do. But the plants and soil are really key to water,fertilizer,and pest control use. In our case,Mark is really into permaculture (This is based on ecological and biological principles,often using patterns that occur in nature to maximize effect and minimize work. Permaculture aims to create stable,productive systems that provide for human needs,harmoniously integrating the land with its inhabitants.- Wikipedia) and I definitely like the concept,but find it very hard in a climate where the ground freezes in the winter,you have limited land,a HOA,and neighbors close by. Much of the permaculture concept incorporates the use of perennials that you and your family find useful. Many of the crops that would have been perennials in CA are annuals in Idaho,but we still wanted beneficial or useful plants. This doesn’t mean they all have to be edible. For example,I love fresh roses,so we incorporated roses. But I have also read that the fragrant red and pink varieties are the best for culinary use,so we have some Chateau Merlot Shrub Roses in the front yard. There are some pines in the beds for structure (so not everything dies in the winter) and the Idaho State Flower,Wild Mock Orange,for show and tribute. There are also many other beneficials mixed in such as St. Johns Wart,White Bee Balm,and strawberries. There are a few other plants that provide color spots and color from March through November. We also chose to use meadow grass in the front and side yard as it is lower in maintenance and more drought tolerant. This mixture of colorful,native,and beneficial plants will provide almost year round color and is just what I wanted.

The back yard has the same basic characteristics with even more species we will use,such as several different kinds of berries,apricot trees,echinacea,bee balm,lavender,thyme,sage ,and rosemary. The rosemary was something I really wanted,but was told will not survive over winter. Chuck was able to find a variety he believes hardy enough to be a perennial. The row of bushes lining the back of the yard are designed to keep the deer and other animals out of our garden area. Sea Buckthorn is used around the garden fence because it is hardy,has large,dense thorns to deter animals and the berries are very high in Vitamin C. I am hoping to find a use for them,maybe like a medicinal syrup (like elderberry). Golden Currant are used around the play area because they grow dense and are deer resistant without the thorns. I don’t know how long it will be before we can plant them,and even longer before their big enough to serve their purpose,but we have a wonderful plan!

Once we had a design,we started taking bids for installing it. We ended up asking for only two bids (because they both were so highly recommended) and decided to go with Power Enterprises,Inc. Power has been very helpful and has worked very hard to come up with a plan to install as much of the front yard as necessary to satisfy the HOA and the infrastructure in the back yard in order to avoid bringing large trucks back there in the future. I am very pleased with their strategy and professional staff. There is enough of the front yard to satisfy the HOA,enough of the back yard to keep it from becoming a mud hole,and still plenty for us to work on for the rest of our lives!

FINISHED!

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ONLINE RESOURCES

BOOKS

The Big Book of Small House Designs:75 Award-Winning Plans for Your Dream House,All 1,250 Square Feet or Less

The Farmhouse:New Inspiration for the Classic American Home

Prefabulous + Sustainable:Building and Customizing an Affordable,Energy-Efficient Home

Dreaming Green:Eco-Fabulous Homes Designed to Inspire

Restore. Recycle. Repurpose.:Create a Beautiful Home (A Country Living Book)

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