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.