Quick work for your brickwork

Mauern - build 01After visits by ghouls, princesses and Dracula this Hallowe’en weekend, and with all the candy chased out of the house, it was finally time to to finish some energy-saving projects. Aside from typical fall homeowner stuff – raking leaves and emptying eavestroughs, I finally finished the brick work I talked about a few weeks ago, posted here.

My home is a small brick bungalow. It’s in pretty good shape overall, but a lot of little things need attention. A couple of months ago I hired Mike from Red Robin to come and replace some damaged bricks. We even had a few bricks missing on the bottom of one corner of the house! Others had become soft, likely because water had seeped in. Mike pointed out that the mortar between the brick was set too far back, particularly for the base of a wall, making it easy for water to settle on top of the brick and seep down.

When Mike finished replacing the damaged bricks, I vowed to follow-up with the tuck pointing, since there were a lot of gaps, and yes even some holes between the bricks – obvious points of heat loss. Yesterday I finally got around to it. Here’s what I did, for those of you interested in giving your brickwork a little makeover.

I bought mortar mix that takes about 72 hours to fully dry. It stays wet enough to work with for an hour or so. Using a paint mixer chucked into a drill, I slowly mixed in the water, using the base of a juice jug as a bucket (I cut off the top, but left the handle intact). I donned a pair of thin rubber gloves, and assembled my tools: a ladder, a trowel, an old screwdriver an old toothbrush and a spritz bottle.

As I combed the brickwork all the way around the house, from the top of the wall to its base, every time I found a crack or hole I’d use the screwdriver to break out any loose material, then use the toothbrush to clear out the dust. Next I spritzed the crack with water, since the mortar adheres better to a damp surface. If I had a big gap to fill I’d use the trowel, but most of the time I’d just pick up a small handful of mortar and squeeze it into a cylindrical shape, then use my fingers to squeeze it into the gap, tapping it in as far as it would go. I tried to avoid getting mortar on the brick, since it leaves a whitish haze, but I used the toothbrush to remove the mortar I’d missed. Finally, I’d swipe a finger over the wet mortar to smooth it out. (You could use a jointing tool for this purpose as well.)

That’s it! While I’m sure that adding more insulation will do more to prevent heat loss than sealing tiny cracks in the mortar, surely it will help.

Do you have to do anything to get your home ready for winter?

November 2, 2009 at 11:50 AM Leave a comment

Another blow to plastic bags

Produce Bags with FruitI recently heard that at the end of November, Metro grocery stores will offer their customers reuseable mesh bags for their produce (four for $5) as an alternative to conventional thin-film produce bags. Metro has 484 stores across Ontario and Quebec, so there’s potential for a lot of plastic savings. The bags are reusable, washable and stain resistant, not unlike these Canadian-made bags I blogged about earlier.

Thin-film plastic is considered the worst offender among plastic bag material, since, among other reasons, it isn’t durable enough for multiple use.

I hope grocery chains will take additional steps, such as offering starch-based biodegradable bags, so they break down safely in soil, and allocate fewer rolls of bags around the stores to discourage people from using them for everything. After all, veggies should be washed before you use them anyway. (I use a tiny smidge of dish soap.)

Metro revealed results of a customer survey showing that 77 per cent are making efforts to limit their use of plastic bags when buying fruits and vegetables, while 76 per cent said they would be interested in buying reusable produce bags. According to the same survey, 87 per cent of customers prefer to buy individual fruits and vegetables instead of pre-packaged ones. I certainly think we could do without the plastic bags on celery, bell peppers heads of lettuce and more, and I really dislike buying packs of mushrooms, since they’re in a type of plastic that many municipalities don’t recycle, topped by cellophane.

I don’t blame food producers for wanted to add something to their products. Homemakers‘ nutritionist, Rosie Schwartz has mentioned that one the reasons we have a hard time eating healthily is that packaged foods have lots of enticing images and marketing copy on them, while the healthiest food – produce – does not.

How would you reduce shopping-related waste?

October 30, 2009 at 2:42 PM 2 comments

Attic insulation: lessons from above


Gateway to the attic

If you’ve ever done a home renovation project, you know that the project you intend to complete isn’t the one you need to start with.

For example, my partner and I would like to add additional insulation to our attic, so we can make sure we’re using as little energy as possible to heat our home. The attic currently sports a messy mix of fibreglass batts and cellulose. According to our energy audit the level of insulation there only amounts to R 19.9 (R level is a measure of insulation value), whereas the EcoEnergy program recommends R 50.

That project will involve us calling in some help in sealing tops of walls with foam boxes and blowing in more cellulose insulation. But first, before we can do any of that, we have to replace the bathroom vent, and make sure it’s vented it outside. You see, the existing bathroom vent, which is mounted over the bathroom in the attic, isn’t well sealed, and it wasn’t properly vented either, so it spewed warm, moist air into the attic. Yesterday a roofer came by to install a roof vent for the bathroom fan. Excited by the upgrade, my partner decided we should connect our existing bath fan to the roof vent right away. So off to the home centre we went. Half an hour later we had all the insulated ducting, tape and fittings to do the job, and thanks to my partner’s handiwork, the fan is now vented outdoors.

So now we can get on with the business of insulating the attic!

Well, after we have a look at the electrical…

Have you added insulation to your home lately, or are you trying to plan the job?

October 29, 2009 at 10:49 AM Leave a comment

A few ways to reduce paper waste

Mailbox with flagI’ll admit that I get more mail than I’d like in my mailbox. While I look forward to receiving my favourite magazines every month, and it’s a treat to get notes from friends, I also get notices, statements, bills and offers. While I’ve moved just about everything I can to digital billing, my partner and I still seem to make use of the shredder fairly often. (Hey, shredded paper makes great mulch, according to Homemakers.com!)

While I’ve moved some of my bank statements, magazine renewals and utility bills to digital notifications, and I pay my cell phone bill through ePost, I think I could do more to give a few more a reprieve. It’s time I called a few of the letter senders to see if I can get on an e-mail list instead of receiving so much paper. I’d love to be removed from some lists altogether, which always seems difficult, but Canada Post has a suggestion.

There’s addressed mail, and then there’s pure junk mail. While I have a note on the inside of my mailbox lid saying no to junk mail, it’s hard to catch the neighbourhood kids who deliver pizza fliers and the like – they’re quick!

At Homemakers magazine, you can sign up for your subscription online, and change your address renew your subscription digitally as well.

If you would like to see how much you could conserve in resources per year by cutting your paper mail, try this calculator at Pay It Green.

Have you been battling your analog inbox? How have you reduced the amount of paper mail coming your way?

October 28, 2009 at 1:36 PM 1 comment

Ripening tomatoes, the last of summer’s fruit

ripening_tomatoesIn mid September I shared an image of the most perfect (and just about the only) tomato to come out of my garden. My doting on the little red fruit must have stirred something within the plant, because not long after, much fruit sprang forth. Well, about a dozen green tomatoes appeared on the vine. And that’s how they remained, until I picked them a week ago, fearing frost.

I tried ripening the tomatoes by wrapping them in newspaper. I tried leaving them in mild sunlight. Finally, I tried wrapping them in newspaper, then putting them in a plastic bag. Presto, they began to ripen overnight. And as this University of Minnesota fact sheet says, “To speed up ripening, place green or partially ripe fruits in a bag or box with a ripe tomato.” That’s because ripe fruit emit ethylene gas. Yes, I think the first to ripen will lead the way for the others.

Did you have some fruits and veggies left on the vine as the temperatures began to drop? Did you find a way to ripen them for one last summery feast?

October 27, 2009 at 11:12 AM 4 comments

Don’t forget to feed the birds!

iStock_cardinal_at_feederIt’s migration season, and as many species of birds are winging their way across the landscape, no doubt they could use a bite to eat and some clean water to drink. So far I’ve had visits from a downy woodpecker, juncos, lots of house sparrows and a pair of mourning doves. Last winter I had a pair of cardinals at the feeder as well.

I have a large hanging feeder (with anti-squirrel features, thanks Aunt Sue!) and a wire cage for a seed cone hanging in my backyard. I put a seed mix in the feeder that includes peanuts, sunflower seeds, corn and millet. I like to put thistle / niger seed bells in the wire cage, although the last one was greeted so enthusiastically it’s all but gone, so I better go shopping.

I’d love to attract other types of birds, such as nuthatches and chickadees, so I’d better go looking for a suet ball. To protect the birds from the legion of cats that prowl through our yard, I hang all of the feeders from a clothesline, away from the reach of fences and branches.

I’m sure that the little guys build up a thirst after flying hundreds of kilometres, so although it’s been wet lately, I have a couple of dishes of water out. I’m keeping my eyes out for a larger black dish, something that will heat up a lot in the warmth of the sun, so there’s water for the birds even on sub-zero winter days.

A bird’s life can’t be an easy one, but they are so darn cute, they’re fun to watch. A sack of bird feed makes for some very affordable entertainment, and hopefully supports the little guys through the cold months.

Have you seen any interesting birds visit your feeder lately?

October 26, 2009 at 3:16 PM Leave a comment

Water conservation comin’ down the pipe


When it comes to saving water, I think we can use all the help we can get. Although I haven’t tried it for myself, I really like the concept behind this new “Dorsey Eco-Performance” water-saving kitchen faucet. Moen has built in three water-volume modes. When you just need to give something a rinse or a gentle soak, there are two lower-flow rate modes, including one with an aerated spray, that run at 6.6 litres per minute, but are designed to wash better than simply opening your tap part-way. But for those times when you need to fill a pot or blast some icky scrap of food off of a pan, there’s a high-volume mode at 8.3 litres per minute.

No doubt water-saving showerheads have saved Canadians loads of water from being wasted. It makes sense that the kitchen tap would be the next in line.

October 23, 2009 at 2:27 PM Leave a comment

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