This month’s surfer: Jane Fisher, CCDC executive director
What’s on her browser: inhabitat.com
What it is: A photo-heavy blog, coming at you live from the future of design. Green living, high-concept prefabs, interior design, super-stylish treehouses: It’s all here. You can also sign up, as Fisher did, for a daily e-mail from the site.
Why she likes it: “I just totally and completely love it,” Fisher says. “It’s very inspiring. It’s these beautiful little pictures, a brief journey into things that are pushing design.” On our first visit we encountered lovely craft-paper lamps, and a scientific breakthrough: plastic made from sugar, water and bacteria, instead of oil! Whoa!
It was the stuff hazing is made of. When we bought our house, we faced a big task: removing damaged fiberglass insulation, and re-insulating in some walls and under our new radiant heat system. An awful day of hauling the itchy pink stuff out of our crawlspace on hands and knees—body encased in protective layers and face obscured by goggles, dust mask and ski mask—sealed the deal. We weren’t going to be putting any more fiberglass into our house. Instead, we went for UltraTouch denim insulation, which we bought from Nature Neutral.
The advantages are many: It’s not itchy, it contains no formaldehyde, it’s good at resisting rodents and mold, and it’s made from recycled jeans. The only real downside is the greater cost.
Installing denim insulation is way easier than wrangling fiberglass, but still not exactly comfortable.
Once we were actually installing it, we found that while it’s way more comfortable than the pink stuff, it still has its pitfalls. It’s treated with borate for moisture control, which is nontoxic but irritating when it rains into your eyes or mouth—so goggles and dust masks were still de rigueur. But the simplicity of putting it in place, especially in walls, was amazing: You need no fasteners at all; you just slip it between studs. And when you need to cut a batt, you can rip it with your hands. (Someone had told us to cut it with a circular saw, which turned out to be really weird advice.)
Having installed upwards of 15 bundles of the stuff, we now feel like experts. The best part? I once found a tiny Levi’s label in one of the batts.—Spackled Egg
From the review stand
The Parade of Homes, if we’re to be literal about it, has always been more of a parade of buyers. This year, both buyers and homes were in scarcer supply at the BRHBA-sponsored event (which took place September 20-21 and 27-28). Yes, there were balloons and the occasional free donut, but the overall mood was befitting a somber housing market.
On the other hand, greater competition meant a stacked deck for buyers. Realtor Todd McGee of Real Estate III thinks consumers had the upper hand in this year’s Parade. They got “a chance to see the latest trends in kitchen design, space utilization, and home decorating” with no strings attached and plenty of bargaining power.
Pushing the limits of bathroom square footage: a Keswick Estate property goes big.
These trends included first-floor master suites, synthetic decking, and energy-efficient design (five of the 48 homes were EnergyStar or EarthCraft certified).
In the Parade’s upper echelons, builders were asking, “Green? What’s that?” A nearly 8,000-square-foot Keswick Estate, prospectively built for empty nesters, racked up accolades like Best Master Suite. Apparently, the current trend towards smaller living rooms has diverted acres of space to this property’s ginormous master bath, suggesting that bathrooms may be climbing the list of top spots to entertain guests.—Kathryn Faulkner
It’s a terrifying scenario: coming home to find your beloved oak has received the bad hair cut of the century. Every three years, Dominion Virginia Power crews make their limb-trimming rounds, leaving shorn trees in their wake. With a 30-foot right of way on each side of its distribution lines, Dominion’s priority is consistent service, not your front yard feng shui—which often means those leafy giants get the axe.
While efforts are made to contact residents before breaking out the chainsaw, for unsuspecting homeowners, tree pruning often comes as an unsightly surprise, often reparable only through costly repruning.
What can you do to avoid arboreal massacre? In the past, groups of homeowners have been able to convince power companies that their trees aren’t a threat, so taking your case to your neighborhood association can be a viable option. If this fails, all a savvy homeowner can really do is plan ahead and plant small, choosing trees and bushes that won’t grow to exceed 10 feet. This includes several species of dogwood, butterfly bushes, thorny eleagnus, hollies, and forsythia.
In harm’s way? Trees and power lines don’t mix.
Dominion has more information about its tree management policies on its website, including a downloadable FAQ on acceptable tree-planting practices, and a list of approved species. You can also contact them with questions at (888) 667-3000.—Lucy Zhou
A visit from the master
Veggie gardeners, here’s some awesome news: John Jeavons, author of the intensive-growing classic How to Grow More Vegetables and director of California’s Ecology Action, is giving a three-day workshop over the mountain in Dayton, October 23-25. If you aren’t familiar with Jeavons, this is kind of the gardening equivalent of Ralph Lauren dropping by to give lessons to locals with sewing machines. Expect a blizzard of info on planting and tending veggies for maximum production—all organic, of course. You’ll be rapping about double-digging techniques and “green manure” cover crops before you know it.
If you’d like to sign up, call (707) 459-5958 or check out http://johnjeavons.info.—E.H.