The Blower Door Test

Blower Door Test

Today, Margy and I are working with our realtor to do the paperwork and photos to put our current house on the market. Lots of de-cluttering and packing up work to accomplish in a very short time.  So to give myself some extra energy for the day, I want to quickly write about our blower door test at the new house yesterday.  This technology measures air-exchange in the house, and thus, how well sealed and insulated your home.  One test is done before doing any work, and a second test after the work is done.  Our house passed with flying colors!

And here is why–last week they raised the level of the attic floor by eight inches, sealed cracks, and pumped in a whole bunch of insulation into the attic, and created an insulated hatch cover.  This might be the most important step we have taken for greener housing! It is good to remember that goal in the midst of all the hard work involved in making a move.

Attic Insulation

Cellulose insulation is also under the raised boards.

hatch and cover

The hatch box showing the eight inches that was raised up, and the hatch cover to the side.

Finding Our Way Home

I am acutely aware right now of the parallel journeys I am walking these days. The central purpose of this blog, and of the book I am hoping to publish, is to articulate the spiritual journey into earth community, finding our way home to connection with earth, with each other, and with the Mystery within and between all. And now, Margy and I are trying to “find our way home” in a literal way, to a house that can function more in tune with our ecological desires. Experiencing the ups and downs of that process–the search for greener housing–teaches me so much about the spiritual journey of finding our way home to earth and spirit and each other.

I realize that it is a journey of grief as much as of beauty.  It is a journey of letting go of the things we thought we needed, some of our accumulations of material property, to make room for a simplicity of heart. It is a journey of following the deep desires of our hearts, and sometimes only learning what those desires are when we feel the pain of losing something we didn’t know we desired. It is a journey of many searches, many turn arounds, many disappointments, and yet some surprises that delight.

It is a journey in which we get to know kindred spirits along the path. It is a journey of learning what kinds of systems actually help a house to function more gently on the earth, and what kind of systems help us as human beings to live more beneficially with our planet. It requires great initiative and stamina, but also demands that we cultivate patience, and that we wait in darkness as we experience the contradictions between what is, and what is not yet–what we dream about.

Today I voiced to myself the realization that the spiritual journey into earth community will likely not be completed in my own lifetime. It is a collective journey.  I can give it my voice and my love and my energy, but it will require so many more voices and so much energy from so many people. But most likely I will live in this liminal zone–this space between the world as it is, and the world that is not yet–most likely I will live here all of my days.

So I appreciate more deeply all that I am learning in our search for greener housing. Because experiencing this smaller liminal zone is bringing to me what I need for the larger liminal zone.  Most particularly today, I appreciate that it cultivates in me an open heart to all of the emotions it brings–the anxiety, the excitement, the hope, the disappointment, the grief, the emptiness, the beauty. So when I write of such emotions in this blog, there is a kind of equanimity in me, like a river flowing through my heart. I am glad to be on both of these journeys of finding our way home.
Path in Woods

the not so big house

One of my friends (thanks, Deb!) pointed me in the direction of a great book to add my search for beauty to our search for greener housing. Sarah Susanka’s the not so big house: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live is not a new book, but it is new to me. (By the way, I bought the book with credits from turning in used books to my local independent bookstore, Longfellow Books. Isn’t that great!)

Susanka also has a website–the book and the website are both on the theme of how to reimagine our homes so that they feel like home–with comfort and usefulness and beauty–without being as big as we might think they need to be. (Her website also has resources and links to green housing as well. The two ideas share a lot of resonance.)

She is responding to the tendency in American culture to expand the sizes of our houses so that they have turned into almost mansions. Now, her not so big house is a little bigger than the one we are looking for–in fact our current house would fit her definition, too. But what I liked most is that she talks about particular strategies that can contribute to a feeling of homeyness.

Simple things, like creating a sense of containment around certain spaces by lowering a ceiling, or putting in some sort of molding around an area that gives it a focus.  She also suggests most of us would do well with a more open living plan, where our public spaces are joined together–in a living, cooking and eating area. We then also can create private spaces. Something I had never thought about was the importance of the entryway for making a home feel hospitable and a joy to enter. It all makes sense to me.

It is the details that make a home beautiful. I find I like the details I have seen in Craftsman Style homes, like in this picture below–the simple wood molding around the upper part of the wall ties the room together. Poring over Susanka’s photos and ideas, gives me a better sense of how to imagine renovating houses that we might see that don’t seem to be what we are looking for, but have the potential to be turned into what we want. My imagination has been lit up!

Craftsman Style Interior Photo by Emack2020JPEG Via Creative Commons.

Craftsman Style Interior
Photo by Emack2020JPEG Via Creative Commons.

The Yearning for Beauty

Window DSC00652 - Version 2My heart keeps getting pulled back to the beautiful window house, and finally one morning, I was able to articulate why. We didn’t put this into our wish list, but seeing that beautiful window awakened in me a deep yearning for beauty itself, for something unique and creative in a home.

Perhaps it keeps calling back to me because our search for greener housing is moving at less than a snail’s pace. We looked at two more houses, but were unimpressed. There is nothing out there right now that is anywhere near adequate.

Or perhaps watching “renovation” shows on television are making it seem simpler than it actually would be to make changes in a house to fix its problems. But I notice I am not attracted to all the high-end fashionable features that the contractors put into these houses on television. Rather, I like the quirky and unique, like a wall made of cedar planks, or a screen door with a metal bird design. I think there was a time when beauty was an important part of the craft of creating houses. We see it in old geometric designs in wood floors, and stained glass windows tucked into the turn of a stairway.

So I ask myself, can we add that to our wish list? Might it be possible to find a house that has an art to it, as well as the practical features that would make it work for us and for the environment?  Might it be possible, even in a small and inexpensive house, to find something that makes our hearts light up?

At first this yearning feels almost painful, like grief or a hopeless obsession. But at some point I realize how ancient is this human desire for beauty, how utterly vital to our spirit and survival.  I am able to embrace it, and let it reach out into the morning light.

I Wish There Was a TV Show Called “Downsizing”

Lately, we’ve been watching house buying and selling shows on Netflix. We’ve picked up a few good tips on de-cluttering as an important step in selling a house. But it is unbelievable to watch these reality show folks looking for new houses. It seems everyone is looking for bigger and better and more “in style.” No one likes houses with decor from the 90’s or 80’s or 70’s. They all want granite countertops in the kitchen, huge walk-in closets, several bathrooms, cathedral ceilings, and thousands of square feet.

Our house’s kitchen has not been updated. We have lovely custom maple cabinets, and the original built in two ovens and stove top. But our reality show hosts would likely have a field day–they’d pull out all the counters and flooring and appliances and upgrade to granite and new tile and probably paint the cabinets, and put in stainless steel appliances.  I’m not sure what they would do with the brick wall–we’ve learned from these shows that exposed brick is so “seventies.”Brick DSC00849

I wish there was a show we could watch in which every episode follows people who are downsizing from a big house to a small efficient home. Even better, the people would be adding insulation, and putting solar panels on the roof, and exploring renewable sources for heating and cooling. They wouldn’t care about the latest in style, but would look for classic and ecological features. They’d have the latest ideas in how to make the most of small space.

Are you listening HGTV?

Closets

Broom DSC00663It is funny what bubbles up. In our search for greener housing, there were some things that didn’t make it onto our dream list. Like closets. But after writing the post about the beautiful window house, as I lay in bed trying to go to sleep, I realized that that house had almost no closets–one big bedroom had an okay-sized closet, the other big bedroom had a very tiny closet, and there was one very tiny closet in the hall. That was it.

I began to try to imagine–where would we put our coats and boots and scarves and mittens? (We live in Maine after all.) Where could we put our bathing suits and beach bags? (Maine in summer!) Not to mention clothes and linens and shoes. Where would we put an ironing board or vacuum cleaner or broom? We are trying to simplify our lives, but we also need the tools that go into daily life, and a place to put them.

Then I started to notice other things about the house that weren’t very good. For example, there are two and one half bathrooms (we only really need one) but if a guest comes to stay, they have to go into another bedroom to use the shower. Isn’t that a little crazy? The big beautiful window can’t be opened, so what does that do to airflow? The basement was musty–will it freshen up with some attention so that we’d feel comfortable storing boxes down there, or will it be off-limits to us?

Our realtor reminds us that some of the features we do like about this house don’t come along very often. We are going back to the house today to see if we can imagine solutions that work. But at this moment, this morning, I am paying attention to the voice that says, “maybe not?” How do we find clarity? Perhaps the voice of wisdom will come through the silliest thoughts and feelings that creep into our hearts as we try to sleep.

A Cattail Basket

Cattail basket MJ DSC00428I made this basket tonight from cattail leaves! I went to a workshop at the Resilience Hub, led by Ashirah from the Koviashuvik Local Living School. She brought the leaves, which had been picked when they were green, dried for a few days and stored, then re-dampened shortly before our workshop. We used darning needles and sturdy green thread, and Ashirah taught us how to coil the leaves and thread them together. My first basket is uneven, and had a will of its own but it smells great and it came from plants the grow wild and abundantly here in Maine. Hurray!