Monday, 27 August 2012

O Healthy Drywall, Where Art Thou?

Finding healthy, environmentally friendly renovation products is like walking through a minefield. Just when you think you have the right thing, boom, there are either toxic chemicals in it, it is not available in North-America, or it is way too expensive.  Mia did a lot of research on different products to replace traditional drywall; it was my job to do the leg work and find out if any of these products were suitable and available for our project. 

Sadly, there are very limited products available as alternatives to commonly used drywall.  Mia wanted to explore the natural clay/lime plaster option but our 1950’s era home was built using a  drywall and plaster combination; there was no lath.  We would have had to build lath then find a plaster master to do it.  Time and expense excluded this choice. 

We explored two new products, Eco-Rock and Greeneboard, both made from post-industrial waste materials and both claiming to be naturally fire, mould and pest resistant.  They both claim their boards are non-toxic and accepted in landfills; they say they can be ground up and put into your garden.  Eco-Roc seems to have undergone more testing and accreditation then Greeneboard but we had concerns about the exact ingredients of these products, the general lack of information on them and their uses and conflicting reviews on the products.

Another great product that Mia found was clay board. Clay, a natural product, is made into sheets and used as an alternative to drywall. The product is made by a company in Britain but we were not able to find a distributor in North-America.

Giving up on finding alternatives, we began researching the various drywalls available on the market. A landmine to avoid is drywall made in China.  Many homes in Florida had to have their drywall removed because of the high sulphur content in it making people sick.  There are concerns that some of that drywall is still in circulation.  The other big landmine to avoid is drywall treated with chemicals to make it mould, moisture, fire and pest resistant.  Also, there is a hazard with the drywall compound when the silica dust becomes airborne upon sanding and can damage the lungs.  

Finally, desperate for finding a product and on the recommendation of a local eco-building supplier, we looked into drywalls made in Canada.  We ended up choosing CertainTeed Easi-Lite™ Lightweight Gypsum Board made in Quebec and carried by Rona.  It is Greenguard Certified, as is their Dust Away® Renovation Mud™ and easily accessible. The Greenguard Environmental Institute certifies products for low volatile organic compounds. It helped us navigate the drywall labyrinth and provided us with a guarantee that we were getting the healthiest product that is on the market.

Our drywall choice

We wish there were more alternatives available to traditional drywall but the construction industry has a long way to go in this field. We settled for the drywall that we felt was the best choice for us given our  time constraint but we would like to explore the traditional clay/lime plaster in our next project. We will keep you posted.

Drywall is going up

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Cotton insulation - love it!

Don’t throw out those old worn out jeans you’ve been hanging onto; recycle them!  There’s a good chance they could end up as insulation.  We struggled with what insulation to use and still adhere to our goal of a healthy, sustainable renovation.  We were caught in the Goldilocks syndrome; the fibreglass was cheap but too toxic, the spray foam was too toxic and expensive, the wool sounded great but was too expensive.  The cotton, though, was just right! 

Our double brick house has zero insulation in the exterior walls.  Mia did the research on this and found that cotton was our best alternative. It is made from natural, renewable, recyclable material that is only treated with borax to prevent mould growth.  The fibres are not damaging to the lungs and it contains no toxic chemicals.  It is more expensive than fibreglass but much cheaper than wool and not toxic like spray foam insulation.  For our kitchen reno we only needed one exterior wall insulated so the cost was not prohibitive. 

We contacted Kevin at the Eco Building Resource in Aurora who carries two types of cotton insulation.  We went with UltraTouch 3.5" X 16" X 94" (8 batt/bag). One bag covers 85 sq.ft.  We also ordered 2 x 24 oz. cans of Durafoam 0-VOC low density spray foam insulation to fill in some holes and cracks in the wall.  
Insulation just arrived

We love the product. Here are a couple of trouble shooting points:

1. The insulation batts are perforated lengthways and fairly easy to tear to fit for places with narrower spaces between the studs.  Cutting them horizontally to reduce the length proved more difficult for our contractor.  The batts are not perforated horizontally and a knife did not work.  He ended up tearing it which proved difficult.  When we contacted our supplier he suggested using a non-serrated knife, just ripping it as we did or for larger projects using a skill saw with the blade in backwards.

2. I was not present when the insulation was installed and I was surprised to see that it was all used up when I got home.  We ordered two bags which should have covered the wall with 60 sq. ft. to spare.  Our contractor, who is not familiar with this product, did not unfold the insulation and used it doubled over.  He thought that it was too thin unfolded.  There are instructions to shake it to increase  it’s volume as it is compressed during packaging and shipping.  I checked with the supplier who confirmed that it is meant to be unrolled in a single layer and that it will expand over time. 

Insulation done and ready for the drywall

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Contractor Circus

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, 
come one, come all and watch the 
Magnificent Misha and Mia 
as they juggle electricians and leap through the gas guy’s fiery hoop of death!

So, we have decided to be our own general contractors and hire individual trades and it really is like being the Ringmaster in a three ring circus.  If you haven’t been following along, we planned to do the reno back in April but due to life circumstances we rescheduled to August.  We had done a lot of research and obtained at least 3 quotes on all the jobs. 

When the time came we did not go with any of the contractors we had received quotes from.  They were either not available on the dates we wanted or too expensive.  Armed with the knowledge and experience from the previous months we had 5 days to arrange the electrical and gas and coordinate with our carpenter, tiler and cabinet maker. 

The electrician search was like being in a tiger cage where you are never certain if you or the tigers are in charge.  I called about 5 electricians; our top and most expensive pick was not available on the day we wanted, our second quote seemed great but when it came time to send us a quote we got a major run around but no quote. We finally went with a small local company who had a guy willing to start on Sunday and keep us on schedule.  

The gas guy was a completely different adventure.  We got phone quotes of $300 - $400 dollars that ballooned to $700 - $800 once they came out to see the job.  We were in a rush and not in a great negotiating position.  We went with a family business that quoted us $800 to do the job.  The crotchety, decrepit patriarch of the family did the ever fluid quote.  It seemed high to me and I was able to negotiate a price of $600 with the grandson. When they came to do the work, Gramps real or feigned memory issues resulted in a bill of $650 plus an additional $50 to come back and hook up the stove.  A quick meeting with sonny in the furnace room got us back to the $600 all in price.

Lesson: Know what animal you are dealing with before you get into the cage, let them know who is in charge and never let them see your fear.

Result: Electrical and gas complete and ready for insulation and drywall.  We are walking the tightrope of home contracting, over the tiger pit, while juggling and all without the aid of a safety net!


Electrical and gas done

Monday, 20 August 2012

Wall today, gone tomorrow!

Our biggest decision was whether to remove the wall between the kitchen and the living room.  After a year of discussion and my persistent repetitive plea of “Ms. Gorbachev, take down that wall!”, Mia relented and the wall came down.  Chris, our neighbourhood contractor, did a great job saving the crown moulding in the living room and the mantle we left will match the load bearing beam in the kitchen.  It will also hide the duct work we must re-route to maintain heat to the upstairs bedroom.  The alternative was to demo the whole living room ceiling to get a flat transition between the kitchen and living room which would have been messier, more expensive and would have ruined a perfectly good ceiling.  Mia loves the wall down and her fears have been allayed.  The space is lighter and feels more airy. We are selling pieces of the wall to anyone interested in a souvenir of the historic event.

The duct in the middle is still waiting to be moved.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

The point of no return

Well, there is no turning back now.  We just removed the last of the kitchen cabinetry and appliances with the help of our friends Todd, Charlie and Dave.  We put the stove and dishwasher out on the curb and within 5 minutes they were picked up by a drive-by scrapper; community recycling!  The scrap went into a 24 cu/yd dumpster we ordered from the local dumpster guy.  The fridge went easily to the basement once we dismantled the door.  It will become the basement fridge for extra garden food storage.  Misha

One last cabinet to go