Wednesday, December 24, 2008

How Big is Your Footprint?

We're not talking shoe size here...rather, the impact of our lifestyles on the Earth. Each of us makes choices (consciously or not) about the way we live that, taken collectively, are defining the future for life on this planet. If you would like to check out your own ecological footprint, go to and take the quiz. It is interesting and thought-provoking.

The quiz measures four categories of footprint: Carbon (home energy and transportation); Food; Housing; and Goods and Services. From the answers you give, the quiz calculates a sustainability index that is graphically shown by how many planet Earths it would take if everyone lived like you.
There are also suggestions on how you can live a more sustainable lifestyle.

If you would like a free consultation about changes that can be made to your home or office to
"green it up", I would be happy to talk about some specifics with you.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Living Better in Sonoma County--the Coast

The microclimate of the Sonoma Coast provides great recreational opportunities and gorgeous views, as well as its own particular challenges for home maintenance and improvement. Some of the issues mentioned in previous articles, like orientation of the building to take advantage of passive solar benefits, and controlling excessive moisture, apply here. Beyond that, the Coastal wind and corrosive salty air can wreak havoc on a home that has not been put together or maintained properly.

Wind-driven rain can find ways to enter a building causing damage to the structure and interior. Special care and methods (that would be considered extreme elsewhere) must be taken when installing windows, flashings and exterior siding and trim to prevent troublesome leaks. Having learned the carpentry trade in this environment as a young apprentice, I became aware early on of the unique problems one can encounter when building at the Coast.

The only metals that perform well as fasteners and flashings are stainless steel and copper...forget about galvanized steel anywhere near the Coast. This is because of the highly corrosive salty moisture in the air near the ocean. These materials are costly to purchase, but take no longer to install and are well worth the expense to prevent problems later.

There are two projects at the Coast featured on my website .

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Living Better in Sonoma County--Russian River Area and the Redwoods

The microclimate of the lower Russian River watershed, with its canyons full of Redwoods, presents its own isssues of home maintenance and helathy living, most of which revolve around excessive moisture. The damp climate, where many houses are in shade most of the time, promotes the growth of fungus, mildew and mold. These conditions can be hard on the health of both the buildings and their human occupants.

I lost count long ago of the decks and stairs I have replaced because the Douglas Fir framing lumber had been left unsealed, allowing moisture to be absorbed and rot to develop. Often the Redwood decking was still relatively sound, but the structure underneath had become unsafe. The use of pressure-treated Fir lumber has helped solve this problem, while creating others. Workers should wear dust masks and gloves when handling these materials that contain toxins, and special measures need to be taken for scrap disposal. In recent years, these materials have become more user-friendly, containing less harmful chemicals. Hot-dipped galvanized or stainless steel hardware and fasteners are necessary to resist the corrosive effects of treated lumber.

There are a variety of alternatives to using precious Redwood for decking. Composite materials, made from recycled plastic products, require virtually no maintenance. Some manufacturers provide handrail components as well as decking.

Interior problems of mildew and mold are often caused by moisture condensation. We generate humidity indoors with normal activities like cooking and showering. When this warm, moist air makes contact with a colder surface--like the drywall in an uninsulated wall or the glass in a single pane window--condensation occurs, promoting the growth of mildew and mold. Upgrading the home's insulation, replacing old windows with dual-glazed units, and installing bathroom fans are basic steps that can be taken to save money on heating costs and improve indoor air quality.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Living Better in Sonoma County--the Inland Valleys

Just as microclimates affect the success of certain types of grapes that can be grown in particular areas, they also affect decisions about home maintenance and improvement. Living better where you are--inland, in the Redwoods, or at the coast--can be achieved by tailoring your actions to your specific area. This article focuses on the inland valleys.

The southern exposure of your home can be a source of uncomfortable heat in the summer and welcome warmth in the winter. Orientation of a new home or addition to take advantage of passive solar shading and heating is too often overlooked. A south-facing room with large windows needs several elements to make it work well.

When the sun is high in summertime, wide roof overhangs and shades will keep the house cooler. During the winter, when the sun is lower, the sun's rays can help heat the home, especially if they shine on a floor with thermal mass, such as tile over concrete. This material absorbs solar heat and retains it over time. Taking advantage of this natural approach to heating and cooling will make your home more comfortable and energy-efficient. A super-insulated (R-25 walls, R-50 ceiling) house that is oriented for passive solar can cut energy costs by up to 50%!

This is one example of how a Green Building approach can be utilized, whether it is new construction or remodeling. I can suggest others specific to your situation.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Winter Is Just Around The Corner

Halloween costumes and turning the clocks back are sure signs that winter weather will soon be upon us. That means that energy use--and costs-- for heating will be greater. This can be an opportune time to increase the energy-efficiency of the home.

Now is the time to check weatherstripping and replace if it has gotten brittle over time. Furnace filters should be changed to maximize efficiency. Inadequate attic insulation is a major source of heat loss as are single pane windows.

Solving these problems is a service I provide that can increase your comfort level and save you money as well.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Greening Your Home Has Benefits

I recently completed training to become a Certified Green Building Professional. This was through a program of Build It Green, California's foremost organization in the field. Their website is One of the trainers has been active in the green building movement since its inception 15 years ago.

Buildings are the largest source of CO2 emissions, far surpassing tranportation and industry. 70% of the homes in California were built before 1978, when the need for energy conservation became so apparent that the Energy Code was adopted (Title 24). And the majority built since then are not energy-efficient by today's standards. The quality of indoor air, where we spend most of our time, is 2-4 times worse than outdoors.

These facts lead to the compelling need to take action to make our existing--as well as new-- buildings cost less to operate and be healthier places in which to spend time. Green building is not just about solar and alternative energy, it is also about saving money and improving overall health. There are a wide variety of steps--from small to medium to large--that I can suggest for your specific situation to improve your quality of life and protect our environment. Here are but a few examples:

95% of the energy used by incandescent light bulbs generates heat, not light. Compact fluorescent bulbs now come in warmer color shades and save money every month.

Weatherstripping and sealing to prevent heat loss through uncontrolled air infiltration is another low-cost way to reduce energy costs.

When replacing carpet or other flooring, shop for products that contain less harmful components than the old standard ones. Offgassing from underlayment and floor coverings is a major source of bad indoor air quality, and it continues for years. There are viable alternatives out there.

When replacing your water heater, appliances, or HVAC system, get advice on how to improve the energy efficiency and performance of these big ticket items. The labels can be confusing and/or deceiving.

If you decide to add to or remodel your home, I can work with you to improve your building's energy performance as well as your family's health by implementing some Green Building approaches. The benefits you will experience will continue long after the project is complete.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Acknowledgements March 2008


Creating my website was an organic process that evolved over more than a year and involved several key people besides myself.

It all began when my friends, Homer and Christine Canelis asked me to help them develop a landscaped area for their ridgetop home in the coastal hills of Sonoma County. Christine had a vision for a welcoming entrance, so she and I spent some time looking at several older homes around our community that featured trellises and arbors. Most of these were modestly built, lacking grace and character. Then she found a picture in a magazine which suggested the arched shape with substantial sized members, and we had a concept. Homer had an older dry Redwood log he and his father had pulled out of Austin Creek years before, and some old-growth Redwood salvaged from a water tank. The pictures on the Artisan Woodwork page chronicle the process of creating this unique piece.

My friend, Andrea Record—sculptor, musician, writer, and photographer—offered to take pictures of this and another of my recent projects. It was she who planted the seed that I should develop a website when she saw my work. She has an unusual and beautiful website for her business, Studio Nouveau and convinced me that I needed to move into the 21st Century myself. After letting the idea lie dormant for a number of months, I started the process by working on a portfolio of pictures of the special jobs I had done over nearly 30 years of building. When it came time to actually design the website, Andrea offered to let me use the antique sepia background that she had created herself for her website.

My sister, Billy Trent, loaned me her digital camera and spent countless hours processing and downloading several hundred pictures onto CD’s, setting me up with an on-line photo service, and encouraging me to make our family’s business tradition part of my presentation on the Web. I ended up devoting a special page to that aspect. For it was my father and grandfather who taught me the meaning of work and service in business.

I had looked into the “create it yourself free” website services offered by various internet companies and was not satisfied with those. I knew I would need professional help to create something customized and special to get my message out there. Then lightning struck when I met Buffie Harris, who operates Design Orbit. We immediately hit it off and after our first get-together, I knew I had found the perfect person to create the website. She listened to me as carefully as I do with my clients, to get an intuitive feel for what I wanted. Her work consistently exceeded my expectations.

My clients (with whom I often become friends) whose homes and testimonials appear here have my heartfelt thanks for allowing me to come back and take pictures years later.

To say “thank you” to all these people who were instrumental in helping me is hardly adequate. Without any one of them, this website would have never come to fruition in the way that it has.

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