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Wednesday, March 19, 2008


A while back, I mentioned something about our eco-roof, and Birrd asked for more info. Here it is, finally.

The eco-roof is not on the house, it's on the garage. We live on a very steep street, and our garage is right next to the sidewalk at the downhill side of our lot, dug in so that the back and uphill side are completely buried and the roof's more-or-less flat surface is basically at grade. Though the houseward corner of the garage is quite near the garageward corner of the house, the garage floor is several feet lower than the basement floor, and they connect via a sloping, curving tunnel with a reinforced concrete roof.

The previous roof was that black rubbery/tarry stuff, and though it's hard to know for certain, we are fairly sure that there was a leak at the houseward corner. Certainly there was quite a bit of rot in that area, and consequent sagging. We had done some stopgap repair of that corner when we bought our house eight years ago, but knew we would eventually be replacing the garage roof. We were doing a lot of other exterior projects last spring/summer, including repainting all the house trim and the front of the garage, so it seemed like a good time to undertake the project.

I suppose if we had replaced the garage roof at the time we bought the house, instead of just repairing it, we would have done something different than we ended up doing. However, in the intervening years eco-roofs have been getting increasing amounts of press locally, and I knew there were people who would help me do it and do it right. When I initially talked to Greg Haynes at Ecoroofs Everywhere, a couple of years ago, they were really only working with non-profits or people who wanted to recruit a volunteer force for planting etc. Fortunately, by the time I was ready to undertake my project, Greg was working as a consultant with people who were willing to pay market rates. He hooked me up with a structural engineer who could assess what structural changes needed to made to support the weight of soil and plants and a contractor he had worked with in the past, and the project started just about a year ago.

The contractor dismantled the old roof, beefed up the existing support structure, then created the structural foundation for the eco-roof. They were able to re-use a lot of the existing materials, just took out the rotted sections, and fixed the slope of the roof at that corner to better drain water. The roof now consists of doubled-up 2x10 support beams, a plywood underlayer, a waterproof membrane, a layer of padding (basically like a wool rug pad), a few inches of a soil mix containing a high percentage of pumice, sedums and sempervivums, and a top layer of burlap mesh. The plants will eventually completely grow through and cover the mesh.

I'm pretty happy with the results overall, though I was dismayed to discover that the reconstruction had not resolved the water issues near the tunnel. As it turns out, a bigger problem than any leak that may have existed was the issue of water wicking from the concrete tunnel roof (concrete is porous) into the wood structure. This necessitated, last fall, the removal of the material filling the gap between the concrete and the wood. Right now the crack is covered with roofing felt (detritus left by the metalworkers who put a new copper roof on our bay window) held down by brick pavers, but some time in the next six months we will have to figure out a way to permanently close the gap and still keep water out of the garage structure. If we can succeed in keeping it dry, the eco-roof can last upwards of 30 years. It cost more than a conventional roof would have, but will last longer and will reduce the amount of runoff heading into the river.

Besides the eco-roof, I'm always looking for other, smaller ways to green up my life. It was a big epiphany for me, a while back, when I realized that the three members of the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" trinity are not co-equals. No, dear readers, it's a hierarchy. Recycling is good, but reusing is better, and reducing is the best of all. So here are my recent small triumphs:

Reduce: I finally figured out that my cotton balls (which I use twice daily to apply toner to my face) were too big. Now I gently pull each one into two pieces and use a half, and it works just great. Yay! I've reduced my consumption by 50%, just like that. Cotton is biodegradable, sure, but the growing and manufacturing process couldn't be much less eco-friendly. So for my next bag I'll be purchasing organic cotton balls.

Reuse: Please tell me I'm not the only one who saves rubber bands and paper bags and ribbons from presents? Anyway, I had a big rubber band collection (8 years of regularly getting them with the mail and newspaper). I sorted them by width and made rubber band balls, then happened to catch my mailman one day, and he was thrilled to take them off my hands. More yay!

Recycle: For the last few years, I've been participating in Plastics Roundups run by the Master Recyclers. They will take just about anything plastic that is not recyclable curbside. The recycler who processes the plastics they collect recently expanded its film processing capability. No, not photographic film, any thin flexible plastic, including plastic bags, cereal and cracker liners, shrink wrap, etc. etc. etc. This is awesome. Even without plastic shopping bags (we mostly use cloth bags, and any plastic shopping bags that come our way end up being used for garbage bags), I've filled a large paper shopping bag three times just since the end of January. Our non-diaper garbage has dwindled to almost nothing. Yay!

Now, don't ask me when I'm switching to cloth diapers. That's still something I agonize over.

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Blogger Birrd said...

Thanks for telling me about the eco-roof. I love it! You also motivated me to get back into thinking about RRR. It was so easy in Oregon, and it's so easy here Not to that I'm afraid I've been throwing away a lot of things that I shouldn't.

And I hear you about the cloth diaper agony. I've got guilt issues there. I've looked into it so many times, but I just can't bring myself to take the plunge.

March 20, 2008 at 9:51 AM  
Blogger Adriana Velez said...

Very cool -- I loved reading about your eco roof! And you are so right. Reducing is the most important.

Have you ever tried g diapers? We were using them for a while until Jasper outgrew the largest size (he's still wearing diapers at night). Now we use the unbleached 7th generation diapers.

Cloth is tricky -- after all, you're saving paper and creating less garbage but doing way more laundry and therefore using more water, most likely hot water (thermal pollution). You just can't win. Not to mention a lot of people use bleach because, well, poo.

We used cloth for about a year, but only when Jasper was older (over 6 mo.) and at night when we were most likely not to have poo diapers.

March 20, 2008 at 11:35 AM  
Blogger madhousewife said...

My disposable diaper usage over the last 10 years has blown our carbon footprint so out of proportion, I think if the earth could vomit us up, she would. See, that's what you can tell yourself every time you throw away a diaper: "This is still nowhere near the amount of diapers Mad has put in the land fill."

March 20, 2008 at 3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We tried g diapers with Mr. Middle (new name coming!) for a while. The biggest problem was that they didn't agree with our plumbing. We redid all the plumbing inside the house when we did our major post-purchase remodel, but there is still something funky betwixt the house and the street that didn't like the stuff we were flushing down. Ergo, no more g diapers (it was the cover that was the problem, not the innards--we did sufficiently swish), "flushable" wipes a la Pampers Kandoo, etc.

The other problem with g diapers was that, after just one pee, the liner would squish together between his legs. Subsequent pees would just run out the side. Not good. If each liner is good for only one pee, they're not even remotely close to being cost-effective. I know others haven't had the same problem, so maybe my guy is just a power pee-er or something.

We use 7th G diapers for Cindy Lou. We used them for a while with the little guy, but had leakage issues (maybe he really is a power pee-er?).

The thing with cloth diapers is that I have a front-loading washer and could wash them at 205 degrees--ie., no pretreating, no soaking, totally sanitizing, very low water and detergent use. There is quite a bit of stuff required to do cloth diapers, though, even for a trial. Maybe I'll eventually do it (when I've only got one in diapers, maybe).

March 21, 2008 at 5:00 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

Thanks for the tip about the rubber bands. I often get a huge ball of them. I had never thought to give them back to the mailman. Brillian!

March 24, 2008 at 1:49 PM  

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