Healthy Furniture is the Future in a Green Home

The new rage in interior design is eco friendly and healthy fabrics, surfaces, textures and finishes.   People are finding the importance to using local woods and organic material, they are making a change to their carbon footprint, and making changes in order to “green” their lives.  Switching to organic foods, cleaners and even the way they care for their pets and lawn.  Many people have started looking further into organic living and have started to purchase organic materials for their clothing as well as taking a step back and looking at the furniture including their beds which they spend almost half their lives lounging on. 

The things that make a couch structurally sound and comfortable may actually be harmful to humans and their pets.  According to research done by Building Green there is evidence that the flame halogenated retardants used on most couches can be very harmful to animals as well as humans.  Buying a couch that is made with Wool Linings is much safer.

BiOH polyols are a soy based ingredient used in upholstered furniture, bedding, carpet backing and even automobile seats.  The reason the switch to BiOH is such a great choice is because they are made from soy bean oil which is a renewable source unlike traditional foam which is made from petroleum-based products.  It is a comparable product without having such a large environmental footprint.  It is a responsible choice for those looking for an environmentally friendly product. 

Using locally harvested wood for furniture is another important factor when consumers think about green furniture purchases.  The amount of time, money, energy and fuel it costs to ship a piece of wood from one place to another is costly and damaging to the environment.  This is why so many consumers are looking for local manufacturers to purchase their furniture from. 

When we went furniture hunting we wanted a company that had a solid green mission and offered a range of products including natural local woods, natural fabrics, and sourced from local companies.

We fell in love with New England based Circle Furniture, who works with manufacturers that have a commitment to the environment.  Most of the wood products made for Circle are made by people in New England including one of my favorites Maine Cottage which is where we got the bunk beds and bookshelves (picutred below) for Max’s room, Abby’s desk, and the bed and side tables for the guest room. They are locally made with low-VOC paints and finishes and have beautiful natural fabric choices as well. Paints and finishes are one of the leading causes for polluted indoor air according to the EPA.  Paints and finishes allow low level toxic emissions into the air over time.  Volatile Organic Compounds were once important to the performance of the paint, but now low VOC and zero-VOC paints and finishes are available and are becoming very popular and in some cases required by new environmental regulations. 

The same goes for mattresses, we even bought new organic mattresses for the new beds.  Circle also uses Copeland which is a manufacturer that uses woods from forests that are not threatened and do not contain genetically modified trees, making them part of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).  Copeland was recently awarded the 2009 Sage Award for reducing the industry’s environmental footprint. We chose this gorgeous Milford “cuddle couch” in a super soft corduroy fabric.

There are so many ways to decorate your home in sustainable style; it is getting much easier every year to find companies that construct attractive furniture using solid woods (FSC certified in some cases), natural fibers and low or no VOC finishes and varnishes. 

Furniture is an investment. As we have moved several times over the years, we’ve actually sold furniture with our house and it was fun to get to buy a number of new eco-friendly furniture pieces for the new house. It is important to note that inexpensive furniture is often made using composite woods that are made from glues that can contain formaldehyde—a known carcinogen!   Furniture treated for stain resistance contains chemicals that can pollute the air in your home.  So though we left off the stain protection we selected pieces with highly durable fabrics and finishes yet didn’t forgo style or comfort to bring green furniture into our home.

Kimberly Lancaster | follow me on Twitter

Green Life Smart Life Founder On Panel At Greener Gadgets Conference

Kimberly Lancaster, Founder of the Green Life Smart Life (GLSL) project, will be a speaker at this year’s Greener Gadget’s Conference on Feb. 25th in New York City.  Speaking on the “Green Living Begins at Home” panel, she and four other industry experts will discuss sustainable design strategies and tips for creating plans for a home that is both high-tech and green.

The GLSL project was designed to demonstrate the implementation of green building techniques and smart home technologies to achieve LEED® for Homes certification. Not only did the project achieve LEED® for Homes certification, but was rated by the US Green Building Council as Gold certified. The Narragansett, RI 4529 sq/ft home scored 92.5 out of 136 points and is the first LEED-H Gold home in RI and only the second completed LEED-H project in the entire state.

“Every day we make choices about what we are going to reuse, recharge and recycle in our home. By being aware of the impact of the choices you make, whether it is the amount of energy a device consumes or where it ends up at end of life, we can all minimize our environmental footprint,” stated Lancaster.

Lancaster is also the founder of Caster Communications, a full service public relations firm specializing in consumer electronics, clean technology and sustainable design. Caster Communications was the development and marketing team for the Green Life Smart Life project.

The Greener Gadgets Conference, sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) will cover issues on energy efficiency and sustainable design, along with innovative advances in packaging and product manufacturing to end-of-life recycling solutions. It will emphasize ways in which electronics make a major impact by utilizing renewable energy in developing nations.

2009 Solar Decathalon Lights Up Washington, D.C.

With all of the big media outlets stationed in our nation’s capital day in and day out, you’d think they wouldn’t miss a beat when something extraordinary happens.  Especially when that something is happening right on the National Mall (which, according to the National Park Service, receives 24 million visitors per year).   From October 8-18, 20 teams of university [student and faculty] architects and engineers had convened on the Mall to compete in a program sponsored by the Department of Energy, showcasing projects which took 2 years to complete.  The contestants submitted their proposals and designs 2 years ago, and of the 40 initial entries, 20 were selected for this years’ competition.  Each of the contest entries were designed and built in the home state of the design teams.  A week before the start of the competition, the homes were sent to Washington, D.C. where they were reconstructed on the National Mall.

These projects are state-of-the-art homes (up to 800 sq. ft.), which are self-sustaining, energy efficient and eco-friendly.  During the competition, the homes were judged on 10 criteria, including architecture, engineering, lighting and home entertainment.  Wait, “home entertainment”?  According to the official website, during the competition each team hosted 2 dinner parties at their home.  During the dinner party, they were awarded points based on the quality of the meal, lighting in the home and the overall experience.  Additionally,  the teams were required to host a “movie night” for their guests with judging based on the quality and design of their home theater system, and the guests’ overall experience.  If that isn’t enough,  the teams were also required to operate certain electronic appliances (TVs, computers) during specific time periods, as well as keeping the home lit during specified hours.

This year, Team Germany won the competition, with their cube-shaped design which was almost completely covered in solar panels.  Team Illinois came in second, and Team California came in third.

The entries were judged from October 8 – October 16,  and were open to the public on select dates for tours through October 18.


Department of Energy – Solar Decathlon Official Website

YouTube Showcase of Competition Entries

Posted by Courtney | Follow me on Twitter

A lesson on how not to get screwed from a sub contractor

When you build a home, you have this moment when you say, crap, we hired the wrong guy.

I am there. This has been going on since our foundation dig and we are at insulation to give you an idea of how long.

We hired William Anthony Excavating out of North Kingstown, RI to handle the excavation of the house project after receiving numerous recommendations and bids for the work. This organization has proven to be unprofessional, unreliable and utterly incompetent.

Let me explain the series of events so you don’t have to suffer through the time and expense we have.

1. Hire even more local. Believe it or not, I wish we had used someone from our town. When we went searching for our excavators, one of our requirements was we wanted someone who was a licensed septic installer so we could compete the foundation excavation and septic installation at the same time. This would do two things for us: (1) provide a bigger job which makes bids more competitive; and (2) only have to excavate one more time at final grading and galley installation. We couldn’t find someone in our town that had their own equipment so we went to a bigger operation. This has proven to be a bad idea.

2. Don’t let them work when you are out of town. November was a very busy month with the house being under construction and preparing for the holidays. But it was also a busy month for work too, and I found myself travelling with my job every week back-to-back. There was a point when my husband and I didn’t see each other for eleven days we had been travelling on such opposite schedules. Excavation for the house went on while we were gone. I mean, how hard can it be? We gave WAE plans by our civil engineer (Dowdell) that were then approved by the town. We also had our Dowdell stake the foundation for the exact location of the house. We gave WAE instructions both verbally and via email and our landscape architects were stopping by the job to make sure everything was going in according to the plans. This was not enough. Not being able to stop by the job site daily and see what had happened proved to be a critical error.

3. Make sure they follow the plans. We made a big error on our part. When we did the scope-of-work with WAE somehow the installation of four galleys, that were not approved by the town or included on a single set of plans, got listed in the  SOW. Now, when errors like this have happened in the past, on a smaller scale, the subcontractor has always contacted us to verify information on  job. This did not happen on this job.

4. Before I left for GreenBuild I got a bill from WAE that the job was done. All I could think was; “It is? How is that possible; I haven’t seen anything?” At that point I hadn’t received a call from our engineer and there was still a huge pile of dirt in front of the house and the final rough grading wasn’t done. I asked my husband to check in on this (it’s November 16th). I called their office and spoke with Roseann and attempted to explain to her what I needed. I emailed her my list. “What’s up with the rocks? The huge dirt pile? The galley credit? Is the septic inspection done? Can we get an estimate for the next phase of work to be done?”(I always find people work better when motivated, usually it works. Not this time.) We told WAE what they needed to do and not to do on the job, e.g.; don’t spread the final pile of dirt without going through what the landscape architect has noted as grade to foundation or talking to Bill Dowdell.

5. I didn’t hear back from WAE, so I called my engineer. I explain to him what is going on and he is dismayed that the septic tank and pipes are in the ground, covered with dirt and graded. My engineer says to me; “He never called in his license number to me or a start of construction”. This is in direct violation of DEM. Awesome I think.

So the saga began.

Strike 1: We show up after getting back from Greenbuild (11/23) and the dirt is spread in massive clumps, holes and divots everywhere. The wood that was delivered is half covered in the mud. Awesome. WAE claims that though we told them not to spread the dirt, spreading the dirt according the height of the landscape architect’s plans was not on their SOW.  Apparently however, spreading it haphazardly and with large grooves, divots and holes was.

Strike 2: After ten days of silence from WAE (did I mention they told me that they only wanted to deal with my husband to which I responded, good luck with that), we followed with a week of arguing with them. Dowdell sends WAE a fax asking when the job will start (he already knows the septic is in the ground). Monday, December 1st, WAE calls in the Start of Construction for a septic tank that was already in the ground and covered.

Strike 3: Friday December 5th WAE agrees to show up on the job to “dig up the septic tank”. The Dowdell Survey crew goes to the site and discovers problems and calls WAE. Our engineer, Dowdell Engineering, tells WAE to dig out the tank. The 2-man crew arrives to run data which proves problematic. They rush back to the site before WAE leaves to verify the data. WAE is informed that the inlet pipe has to be raised and the tank riser (that they just replaced (so tank riser #2, the first one was wrong) is now too short. Dowdell leaves the site to allow them to complete the job. They tell Dowdell they have, and cover and grade everything before a final inspection by Dowdell.

Bill Dowdell returns to the site on Saturday, December 6thto find a 4” vertical pipe set as an inspection port at the inlet side of the tank. Dowdell again checks the connection and data; and studying the as-built inverts of the inlet pipe and outlet pipe in relation to the top of tank elevation and comparing them to the cross-section of the tank provided by the tank manufacturers, Dowdell concludes the tank was installed too low to make the D-box pipe where WAE wanted to tie into this not able to get to the D-box by gravity, so the installer (WAE) simply pulled the outlet pipe up to make it slope to the D-box pipe  (located approx 10’ downstream of the tank) thus making the outlet pipe 0.1” higher than the inlet pipe and rendering the tank useless as a settling tank and placing the inlet into a precarious backflow position. (Can anyone say hack job?)

By the way; did I mention the cover to this septic tank didn’t fit the riser and was never bolted? (Oh yes, see Abby fell in our Septic Tank.) This is just another example of the pure incompetence and disregard displayed by this company. Who, dare I ask, digs a six foot deep hole, and then doesn’t fasten the cover so any child walking along that may step on it can fall in?

Did I also mention how WAE (Tony) told my engineer that he wasn’t speaking to him after Tony “screamed at him on the phone”. There’s some pure professionalism for you. He then emailed Bill Dowdell this on Monday, December 8th, 2008: Per your recommendation this morning to lower the building sewer, I am proposing the following; We will return to the site and install a new 4” SDR 35 PVC building sewer at a invert provided by you to within 5’ of the proposed dwelling as per RI Plumbing Code. Upon your approval and provision of new invert elevation, we will return and re-install the building sewer as agreed upon. Please respond within 24 hours if possible as we will return to the site immediately for final resolution.”

But hold on we retorted; “We’ve already paid for Dowdell Engineering to go out to the site twice to certify your consistent errors, what is our credit?” In addition to these errors, we had to hire a second excavator, the very awesome Wilcox Excavation from Saunderstown (who remarked at how sloppy the excavation job WAE completed, as did his competitor, the contractor, the plumber and everyone else who had been on the site) to fix the grading mess WAE made with the pile of dirt I explicitly told their office manager not to spread without us present. I also told Raposo of WAE via email not to spread the dirt without first getting the information from my landscape architect. And, we had to redo the water calculations for the town for the unapproved galleys. So hold on WAE, let’s address all of the problems you’ve created before rushing back out to the job site.

What was William Anthony’s response, they cc: their lawyer. They point on the RI Mechanics Lien Law. They say their SOW didn’t include inspection fees (We never asked for inspection fees. Not once. We asked WAE to do their job. We know inspection is Dowdell’s job but how can he inspect if WAE covers up their work? Or if he never knows WAE was doing the work in the first place? And when there are repeated errors, how many times is the homeowner supposed to pay for the inspector to come out to certify faulty work?)

Honestly the whole thing has been a nightmare. We have tried graciously to work it out with them, offering to pay them for the work they did without problems but compensating us for the work that was defective and caused unnecessary additional fees. They however, had taken the hard-line stance and refused to even acknowledge that any of this was their fault.

So, we didn’t pay our bill, they fought back with the RI Mechanics Lien. In our mind, they didn’t do the work contracted and we tried to resolve it and come to a resolution but they aren’t even trying. So, we notified RI DEM stating WAE installed a septic tank without calling in a Start of Construction. They knew they raised the outlet and compromised the invert and they covered up that same tank before it was inspected.  We also called our lawyer for guidance who suggested we send a detailed letter stating our complaints, thier costs, our plan of action for filing greivances and the back up for all of the above. We did. We were contracted by their lawayer and concessions were made, they agreed to come back to fix the tank and have it inspected by their engineer. We said fine but our engineer had to inspect it too. They made monetary concessions on overruns they drove, they installed a brand new septic tank now with two risers, and they then credited us for the electrical trench they never dug (but charged us for).

So all the paperwork was completed the middle of May; and we had requested everything be comeplete by the end of May as we were heading into our final excavation needs. WAE missed their deadline (shocker) and after a call from my husband, WAE called in their new DIG number from DEM and notifed our engineer the day before that they were going to be onsite. Dowdell, a busy man, was booked and notified WAE as much. WAE flipped out on Dowdell and Dowdell finally said enough. The end result, DEM was called in to inspect WAEs work and render judgement.

What an ordeal, but as of today, we have a signed lien release and a working septic approved by RI DEM.

We’re fortunate that we have built before and because of that we knew what to do and what to ask for when things seemed wrong. We’ve also worked with the same engineer on four projects and trust him, his reputation is stellar.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation with a contractor on a project, there are three things you can do immediately (1) call your town Building Inspector, their job is to help you; (2) call the organization that monitors the company’s license, in our case that was DEM; (3) call a lawyer for guidance, we did not know our rights under the Mechanics Lien law and that legal advice was critical in protecting us and ultimately getting the outcome we desired.

We finally got it done, but this was not a fun part of the project.

Had I known all this at the time, I would have asked for a Surety Bond to guarantee performance.

Anyone have their own contractor nightmare story? Feel free to share!

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster

Points and Beauty for Roof Tiles in a LEED Home

Building a green home takes a lot of effort and determining just what products meet the standards of being environmentally preferable and also helping us get LEED-H points is not always easy.  Roofing was one of those products.  We needed a product that would meet all of the energy efficiency requirements of the home but also had to be rated Class 4 for impact resistance, have the highest ratings for straight line wind testing at 110 mph and have a Class A fire retardance rating.


Most people start the roofing process by looking at asphalt shingles; there is nothing environmentally friendly about a product that uses petroleum, has a 20 year life span at best by the ocean, and cannot be recycled. Asphalt was out and we honed in on metal and composite roofing. I really liked the look of metal roofing but was unsure it was the right rood for our Oceanside, New England cottage style home. The summer cottages of RI usually have either cedar shingles (a look I didn’t want) or natural slate (a look I wanted but could neither afford nor was very eco-friendly). We did our homework and at GreenBuild we saw the composite slate tiles; it was love at first site. roofing-abbys-roof-full-view


We selected the DaVinci EcoBlend roofing tiles in a beautiful Weathered Gray color. They are perfect for our home. The products have been rated by the Cool Roof Rating Council (CRRC) to reflect sunlight and heat away from the home. Meeting the initial qualifications for a Cool Roof indicates that DaVinci EcoBlend products meet or exceed initial ENERGY STAR® program requirements for 25 percent solar reflectivity (in  LEED-NC this would get you up to 2 points for the  7.2 Heat Island Effect). We have our first walk through for our ENERGY STAR portion of our LEED testing the week of May 4th, we have selected to go the performance route as opposed to prescriptive path for ENERGY STAR and expect the roof to contribute to our E&A score based on the shingles solar reflectance and thermal emittance.roofing-abbys-roof-closer


A Cool Roof is measured by two properties, solar reflectance and thermal emittance. Both properties are measured from 0 to 1. The higher the value, the cooler the roof. During independent testing, DaVinci EcoBlends measured in a range of 0.26 to 0.34 for solar reflectance and in the range of 0.67 to 0.72 for thermal emittance. Depending on our home’s overall performance in the ENERGY STAR blower test and the efficiency of our spray foam insulation, the roof tiles can only add to our overall performance. We are insulating the entire roof deck to an R-51 (toasty or cool depending on the season) and DaVinci will maximize our roof’s performance. roof-tiles-up-close


The installation team from Cape Cod Roofing in Wareham, MA, has been installing the DaVinci roof and their work will be tested and measured as well.


The tiles have a 70 plus year lifespan and can be 100% recycled at end of their lifecycle. This is and will be the only roof we put on this house.

The house is so close to being buttoned up and you can really see the vision of our design and all our effort. We’re also really starting to see all of the beauty that the roof design and the perfect roof tiles are adding to the house.

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster

Stackable, Packable, Livable- Innovation in recycled housing

Awhile back I posted a blog about some really awesome eco-friendly homes. Well this list from MSN also has some pretty sweet recycled digs so I thought I would give you all a heads up. All of the homes on this list are made from shipping containers. Architects and designers are using the sturdy boxes in new and innovative ways to create beautiful and comfortable homes for people. The list includes full fledged homes with numerous rooms, stair cases, pools, the works; as well as office complexes, relief shelters, movable/packable homes and condos. My favorite on the list is in Amsterdam, where a complex of containers houses 1000 students. Going to URI, I hear about how hard it is to find places to live on campus all the time, and how crummy the dorms can be. The students who live in this cube complex each get a bathroom, balcony, kitchen, bedroom, study room, central heating, high speed Internet, plenty of sunlight, and bike parking. The article also describes them as “well insulated, surprisingly quiet and comfortable”. keetwonenConsidering the cut in costs to build the complex, I’m sure rent is less expensive than the average on campus apartment.Using the shipping containers not only frees up some dump space, but also cuts down on labor costs and material costs. They are mold, termite and fire resistant. And since we are running out of room to spread out, maybe these new designs can help us stack up. Check out MSN for a look at some real beauties in the shipping container housing market!

Posted by: Ashley (intern)

Go Green Get Green

Thanks to our shiny new president now is the best time to upgrade to green! Because the new stimulus package wiggled some tax rules around, the switch to energy efficiency is now even more forgiving on your wallet. Scott Cooney at spelled the benefits out for us.

First, the tax credit for energy efficient upgrades went up from 10% of the cost to 30%. Then we have an increase in the maximum tax credit you can recieve, it went from $500 to $1500. If you spend a whole bunch of money on something big like solar panels, then you can get more than $1500 back. And the $200 credit cap on efficient windows has gone up as well as the standards to get the credit. Some people might mope about having to put in the extra bucks for the better windows, but we wouldnt want anybody getting money for iffy upgrades, we want it to be worth it! So I actually approve of the more strict window rules. And for all the small businesses you can get a loan for construction work that ups your efficiency, or Energy Star appliances from the Small Business Association.

So not only does upgrading pay itself off in the long run, but now youre getting bigger tax breaks. After a certain point, you’re getting paid to do it. So I don’t want to hear its too expensive. Just do it.

Published by: Ashley (intern)