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Sheep Dog Hollow: an eco-friendly renovation

Alexandra Marks writes about the 'green' and budget-friendly renovation of a 100-year-old farmhouse.

Tony Silverio, who is installing the plumbing at Sheep Dog Hollow (a 1902 farmhouse that's being renovated) is a fan of Toto toilets because of their ecologically sound low-flow flushing prowess. (Joanne Ciccarello/Staff/The Christian Science Monitor)

Low-flow toilets have improved

By / 02.05.10

To be frank, I’ve never thought much about toilets. In the past, whenever I’ve found myself in the market for a new john, the only thing that concerned me was its exterior design. I like things that are elegant and old (or, at least, that have that authentic antique look.)

But now in my effort to become a better human being, as well as renovate Sheep Dog Hollow in as green and economical manner as possible, I’ve become immersed the history and recent technological advances of the toilet. (For instance, did you know the derivation of the word? It’s from the word toile: “French for ‘cloth’ draped over a lady or gentleman's shoulders whilst their hair was being dressed, and then … by extension … the whole complex of operations of hairdressing and body care that centered at a dressing table.” ( Continue… )

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Tony Silverio of Silverio Mechanical installs the pipes for plumbing at Sheep Dog Hollow, an old farmhouse that's being renovated. (Joanne Ciccarello/Staff/The Christian Science Monitor)

The delicate toilet question

By / 02.02.10

Few people enjoy chatting casually about the bathroom, let alone about toilets. But since they’re responsible for as much as 40 percent of the water consumed inside most households, and water is becoming an increasingly precious resource, it's time to talk toilets here at Sheep Dog Hollow.

(For new readers, Sheep Dog is the 100-year-old farmhouse that we’re attempting to renovate in a green and economical manner. For our regular readers, please forgive the repetition.)

Now I confess that I stole the “talk toilets” line from a Sierra Club website, which has a delightful post that starts right up front: “Let’s talk toilets…” (Writing for the highly respected, very proper Monitor, I figured I had to get to the point in a more refined, less direct manner.)

Among other things, the post notes that “The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that water managers in 36 states expect water shortages in the next 10 years, even under normal, non-drought conditions.” ( Continue… )

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After a debate about what kind of roof to put on Sheep Dog Hollow, a 1902 farmhouse that's being renovated, a cedar shake roof was installed. But it developed a problem. What now? (Joanne Ciccarello/Staff/The Christian Science Monitor)

What to do when the new shake roof buckles?

By / 01.28.10

So far Martin and I have been extremely fortunate in our attempt to renovate Sheep Dog Hollow in as green and economical manner as possible. While the 100-year-old farmhouse has needed a complete overhaul – from its once impressive granite foundation to its crumbling roof – we’ve been blessed to work with capable carpenters and masons who’ve dealt quickly with whatever problem the old house has thrown up at them. And there have been plenty.

That said, we’ve been spared the harrowing scenarios that can be found with a quick Google of “home renovation nightmares.”

But now we have a problem, and a serious one. The new cedar shake roof that was finally put on in the past two weeks has buckled after the first serious rain. And not just a little. ( Continue… )

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Alexandra Marks interviews Joe Rios (aka Joe Gas) about a generational trend in building energy-efficient homes. (Joanne Ciccarello/Staff/The Christian Science Monitor)

The new generation of green builders

By / 01.27.10

Meet Joe Rios, known around here at Sheep Dog Hollow as “Joe Gas.” In his early 20s, he’s in the vanguard of a new generation of builders with a green consciousness and a determination to keep on the cutting edge.

As he was growing up, it never occurred to the Connecticut native that he’d get involved in environmentally conscious building. Nope. He was going to be a diesel mechanic and work on the big rigs.

But he fell into a job working at a natural gas company. Then he met Tony Silverio, who owns a heating and plumbing company in Old Saybrook, Conn., that specializes in geothermal heating and cooling systems and other green technologies, such as natural gas-fired tankless water heaters. ( Continue… )

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Sheep Dog Hollow is a 1902 farmhouse in Connecticut that is being renovated with both the environment and the family budget in mind. Currently being decided: tankless water heaters or conventional ones? (Joanne Ciccarello/Staff/The Christian Science Monitor)

Tankless water heaters: pros and cons

By / 01.21.10

One of the great gifts in undertaking this attempt to renovate Sheep Dog Hollow in a green and economical manner is the way the project has changed and challenged the way I think.

So many things that I used to take for granted – water, for instance, both hot in the house and cold out in the pond – I look at quite differently. I see now – in a way that I hadn’t before – that it’s imperative to protect and conserve both whenever possible to ensure that they’ll be plenty for generations to come – even if it’s going to cost me a bit more upfront. ( Continue… )

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At Silverio Mechanical, in Old Saybrook, Conn., Alexandra Marks and fiance, Martin Sheridan, discuss tankless water heaters for their home renovation. (Joanne Ciccarello/Staff/The Christian Science Monitor)

Are tankless water heaters worth the extra cost?

By / 01.19.10

I got a call from my energetic, creative sister-in-law the other day that made me realize I’d been remiss.

“We need a new water heater,” she said. “I know you’re putting in an on-demand system at Sheep Dog, but Pete has been doing some research and he’s got some real questions about it.”

I then realized that early on in this venture in the green and, we hope, economical renovation of Sheep Dog Hollow, I concluded that we’d put in an on-demand water system and left it at that. I never gave the hot water question its own blog post, parsing the pros and cons. ( Continue… )

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The spillway on the pond is located at the end of the dirt road. Sheep Dog Hollow farmhouse is on the same lane as the spillway. Although there's plenty of water in the area, water conservation will be a rule at Sheep Dog Hollow. (Courtesy of Mick Marsden)

Water conservation – the why and how for homeowners

By / 01.14.10

At Sheep Dog Hollow, our green and economical renovation challenge, we apparently have an abundance of water. The view from almost every window includes a peek at a pond, or a brook, or one of the two lakes at either end of our dead end road. And did I mention we’re a mere four miles from the mighty Connecticut River?

A lack of water does not appear to be a problem. But that doesn’t mean that water use shouldn’t be paid proper attention in our effort to renovate in a green manner. It turns out that residential and commercial development, industry, and an a whole assortment of other human activities, such as watering the lawn, are putting a stress on the world’s water supplies – even when it’s not apparent. ( Continue… )

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The 'backyard' at Sheep Dog Hollow includes a running brook and a pond. But water conservation is still important. (Joanne Ciccarello/Staff/The Christian Science Monitor)

Water conservation: Is it necessary in the Northeast?

By / 01.12.10

The presence of water was one of the many attractions of Sheep Dog Hollow, the hundred-year-old farmhouse we’re renovating in as green and economical manner as possible.

Not only did the house sit in a bucolic farm setting, surrounded by dozens of acres of land in conservation easement, but it had a pond out back that was fed by a brook, which eventually fed into a lake at the end of the dead-end road where the old house sits. Across the road runs another large brook, which feeds into yet another pond that sits at the other end of the road. ( Continue… )

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The construction crew starts to clean up for the day as the light dims at Sheep Dog Hollow, a 1902 farmhouse being renovated in Connecticut. (Joanne Ciccarello/Staff/The Christian Science Monitor)

Reclaimed wood flooring wins out in home renovation

By Correspondent / 01.07.10

With our bank account steadily draining away as we renovate Sheep Dog Hollow, it’s getting more difficult to make decisions that put the “green” of environmentally sound before the “green” of good old hard cash.

Our goal, as I’ve noted repeatedly, is to test the proposition that one can build in an environmentally sound as well as an economical manner. One of the first lessons we learned is that it can be done, but one needs to look at the word “economical” in a five- or 10-year time frame. So, for things such as geothermal heating and spray foam insulation, we opted to spend more now on cutting-edge technology to save heating and other costs in the future. It wasn’t hard to justify. ( Continue… )

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Bill Dahlberg checks out the seams in the floor outside of what will eventually be the master bedroom of Sheep Dog Hollow. (Joanne Ciccarello/Staff/The Christian Science Monitor)

Green renovation conundrum: old flooring vs. new

By / 01.05.10

When we first looked at Sheep Dog Hollow, the 100-year old farmhouse we’re renovating in a way that we hope will be both green and economical, we thought we would be able to save the old oak floorboards, or, at least, some of them.

But as anyone who’s renovated an old house will tell you, the best intentions often fall victim to what’s revealed beneath the layers of paint, linoleum, and patching that’s been done over the years.

It turns out that the floors were in a lot worse shape than it originally appeared. ( Continue… )

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