Sunday, July 27, 2008

Shopping Mania, Learning from Those Who Go Before Us

While the application for building permit is under review by the City, we are now searching for everything that will go in the house, from bathroom tiles, to toilets and wash basins, to cabinets, to windows and doors. There's so much to consider, we've developed a 33 page Word file to capture ideas of what we like, including descriptions, photos, and (importantly) prices. There's so much that we like that's simply out of our price range. For example, we really love Paperstone countertops as an option. They're environmentally-friendly, using up to 100% of post-consumer waste paper. Paperstone is made from cellulose fiber (paper) and a non-petroleum phenolic resin derived in part from a natural phenolic oil in the shells of cashews. I love cashews! But at $3,000, one wonders if the less environmentally-friendly formic option might make more sense given our budget constraints.

Yesterday, during our shopping excursion, we visited Amicus Green Building Center ( in Kensington, MD. I've wanted to go there for a year or so, but now had a real reason to visit their showroom. It was smaller than I expected, but they had a good variety of products suitable for our green home. The sales guy we talked with (Trevor) seemed excited when we told him our architect was John Spears with the Sustainable Design Group. Trevor showed us some kitchen cabinet options, called "EcoFriendly" (, soy based concrete stain for the floors, the Paperstone referenced above, and American Clay plaster, which we're considering for the walls.

After spending a couple of hours at Amicus, I drove Andreas to see the Hartnett House (see the link to the right for Mr. Hartnett's blog), which is under construction in Montgomery County, not too far from the Amicus store in Kensington. Andreas was impressed with the Compressed Earth Bricks (CEBs). But we both were concerned about the forms that were installed to hold the
concrete as it's poured to form the vertical pillars, locking in the CEBs. In a few areas, the forms were not strong enough to hold the weight of the concrete. As a result, the plywood appeared to bow, pulling the nails out of the CEBs, creating a "potbelly" appearance in those the columns, and in some cases, shifting the CEBs, so there were gaps between the bricks.

We're counting our blessings having someone go through this process with the same team right before we do. All of these challenges seem manageable, especially if we know about them beforehand and can take appropriate precautions, since we're able to learn from the mistakes of the pioneers.