Energy Fixer Series from PGE


How many of you actually read the inserts in your utility bills? Probably not many, but we often find at least one item of interest in each mailing. For example, this year PGE is publishing an “Energy Fixer” series in their Update newsletter and on their website:

Sarah, a PGE employee and mother of two, recently purchased a 1,500 square-foot, all-electric ranch house built in 1960 that retained much of its original style — along with many outdated energy features. We’ll check in throughout 2015 as she works to shape up her new home and get it energy fit. We’ll also share ideas that you can use to shape up your home.

So far, Sarah has done some research and completed Energy Trust’s online home assessment questionnaire. (Past installments of the series are available on the Energy Fixer page—just look in the right-hand sidebar.) This month, she’ll be conducting in-depth home energy assessment and blower-door test to pinpoint where she needs to seal air leaks and add insulation.

Follow along for some easy lessons in home energy use.

(For those of you who use natural gas and get it from NW Natural, they offer an assessment tool called Energy Analyzer; you must be logged into your account to use it. Pacific Power provides online energy calculators.)

Gratitude and Your Brain

In this month’s letter, we referred to research by the Greater Good Science Center that shows how people who make a habit of gratitude also experience stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure; lower levels of negative emotions like loneliness and anxiety; and higher levels of positive emotions like joy, optimism, and compassion.

Here is a presentation from their Greater Good Gratitude Summit in which Dr. Christina M. Karns (a University of Oregon Research Associate) describes her study of the relationships among gratitude, social reasoning, decision-making, and the brain. There are a lot of interesting presentations on the center’s YouTube channel so, if the subject interests you, take some time to explore them.

Wherever you are spending your Thanksgiving this year, we hope it is enjoyable and relaxing!


Prepping for Fall


Although it’s been plenty warm lately, you can tell by the light and the earlier sunsets that fall is truly on its way. This is a great time to pay attention to a seasonal checklist, like Martha Stewart’s Top Tips to Prep Your Home for Fall.

This brief window before the rainy season sets in for good is also a fine time to do a more thorough review of your home. This Old House has a very detailed guide, How to Give Your House a Yearly DIY Inspection, that takes you through the process step-by-step (including a link to a printable checklist).

Once you get any necessary updates out of the way, you’ll feel confident that you’re prepared to enjoy the changing season!

Countertop Roundup


With so many countertop options out there these days, it’s hard to know where to start. The folks at Remodelista put together a helpful piece Five Questions to Ask When Choosing Your Kitchen Countertops, which suggests you stop and consider the following:

  1. How will you use your countertops?
  2. How much maintenance can you handle?
  3. What are your kitchen requirements?
  4. What’s your budget?
  5. What materials speak to you?

It’s well worth reading the full piece, and here are a few more informative articles for your to-read list.

Have questions about what countertop is right for your kitchen? Get in touch!

An Annual Interval for Perennials


According to the article cited in our earlier post, A Year’s Worth of Sales, August is the month for purchasing perennials and shrubs. But what does that mean for us here in Portland? According to the much-missed Dulcy Mahar, a longtime columnist for the Oregonian‘s Home & Gardens section, “to forgo perennials in a climate such as this is tantamount to a botanical felony.”

Some articles we’ve read strongly advocate planting perennials in the fall as a matter of course for some key reasons: it gives the plants a chance to establish strong roots; soil is typically warmer than in the spring (good for plants) and may be easier to work with (good for your back); and, of course, ongoing watering will be less of an issue than in high summer.

Here are some great resources:

  • Portland Nursery has many guides available for downloading, including a Perennial Bloom Calendar tailored to Portland.
  • Check out the Wild Garden’s list of native perennials, organized by either common name or botanical name.
  • Consider this “six-pack” of perennials as selected by Brian Bauman of Bauman Farms, or Mahar’s other columns, such as one where she picked her favorite perennials for the Pacific Northwest.
  • The book Five-Plant Gardens: 52 Ways to Grow a Perennial Garden with Just Five Plants may offer good guidance. A review in the Oregonian concluded that it “provides novice gardeners as well as time- and design-challenged gardeners with an excellent road map to perennial gardening . . . plant-by-numbers plans encourages successful gardens, which, in turn, encourages life-long gardeners.” Note that the author’s focus is on long-established cultivars, not the newest trends, as the latter can be higher priced or harder to find.
  • Gardenista picked some tough perennials for urban environments or, equally important, the parking strip (we’re filing away the term ‘hellstrip’ for future use!).


Image: “Helleborus orientalis 20070226-1505-10” by Keith Edkins – Own photo. Botanic Gardens, Cambridge, England. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

Decoding Seals and Symbols

These days it’s increasingly easy to find products that meet your preferences for production standards — whether that means kosher or gluten-free or organic — as long as you know what different certifications and their symbols mean. We were reminded of this by an article in last month’s issue of Real Simple that outlined the basics for natural beauty products, but there are a few other seals you might also see on personal and household products.

When it comes to ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ labels, many of these organizations base their certifications on different standards (e.g., what ingredients must be absent, what percentage of ingredients must be plant-based, etc.). If this subject really matters to you, we definitely recommend clicking through to their websites to see the details.


Cradle to Cradle

cradle-to-cradle-sealAdministered by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, the Cradle to Cradle standard addresses five categories (material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness) and awards certification at five levels (basic, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum). In addition to spotting this seal on consumer products, you can search the certified product registry online.


 Cruelty Free

cruelty-free-sealThe pink-eared bunny logo appears in several versions and is administered by PETA. This standard seems to be far less rigorous than the Leaping Bunny certification, but PETA offers an online search and the Bunny Free app for those who are interested.

Continue reading

Accessory Dwelling Units


At the beginning of the month, we attended Building Small, Live Large: Portland’s Accessory Dwelling Unit Tour. We toured eight of the twelve sites on the self-guided tour — and it was hopping!

An Accessory Dwellings Unit (ADU) is a secondary residence located on the same site as a single-family home. Sometimes called mother-in-law units or granny flats, ADUs usually take the form of an apartment over a garage or a garage conversion (an example of the latter is shown above); a basement apartment with a private entrance; or a purpose-built structure separate from the original home.

The tour was hosted by Accessory Dwellings, and their site is full of useful information about ADUs, including numerous case studies with plenty of photographs, several guides, and a new 12-part series on ADU research and policy.

Other key resources include…

For design inspiration, try the ADU category at Small House Bliss or search for ADUs on Houzz. Many people who build these units also turn out to be prolific bloggers, so let your fingers do the googling!

By the way, the tour was so successful that the organizers had to cap the attendance and all the tickets were sold. Based on that success, future tours are sure to be scheduled. Accessory Dwellings organizes and announces other events throughout the year, so you may want to visit their events listings from time to time.


Planning Summer Travel


This month’s client letter include tips on travel deals — like you can find through social coupon sites or wholesale clubs — but what if you just want to hop in your car and go? Here are a few sites that can help you find or create an itinerary:

  • Travel Oregon’s Trip Ideas: Oregon’s tourism bureau has great ideas for itineraries, scenic byways, points of interest, and seasonal attractions.
  • Roadtrippers: Apart from stories and guides, this site has an interactive map that lets you highlight features (accommodations, nature, shopping, food, etc.) between home and your destination. The image above shows part of the route from Portland to Spokane with hiking spots and monuments highlighted.
  • Nerdy Day Trips: Does just what it says on the label. The site originates in and defaults to the UK, so search for Portland to see a local map of nerdy excursions, most submitted by fellow site users.
  • Drives of a Lifetime: This National Geographic tome is on the shelves at Multnomah County Library, and the British Columbia road trip sounds wonderful.
  • Travefy: There are plenty of apps out there to coordinate group travel, but this is one we’ve heard recommended. If you have another suggestion, leave it in the comments.

Safe journey!

Preparing Your Home for Sale

Laura Gaskill continues to be one of our favorite contributors at Houzz, and this piece offers a really practical perspective on “to fix or not to fix” when preparing to put your house on the market.