04 August 2013

Our New House

This is our new house on Lakeside Drive in Lake Worth, Florida. Across the street from it are the Intracoastal Waterway and Bryant Park with walking paths, exercise course and stations, playground, amphitheater, boat ramps, etc. Then not too far east from that is the Lake Worth Beach and the Atlantic Ocean. We are happy to have some water views from the east side of the house. And we can walk to Downtown too. It is also a rare two story craftsman style house that has been modified a bit but not totally destroyed.

The rear yard is completely canopied by Live Oak, Banyan, Royal Poinciana (or Tamarind), Mango, Avocado and Palm trees. The front yard has beautiful smelling Gardenia bush by the front door and a windswept Coconut Palm plus Hibiscus bushes lines the sidewalk. Pesky Florida insect control is handled by an army of hungry Anoles and Geckos. Rodent control is provided by a Black Racer (non-venomous and non-dangerous snake). There is a whole eco-system here and at neighboring homes. There are several types of butterflies fluttering in the yards, snails come out after the rains and there are several crabs at the waterfront. And there are the birds…too much to go through now. Just keep the chemicals away and it will all thrive.

Sunrise Over the Intracoastal taken from the park across the street

Full Moon, picture taken from the front yard.

29 January 2012

Why the Most Environmental Building is the Building We've Already Built

From: The Atlantic Cities, Place Matters by Emily Badger

“Reusing an old building pretty much always has less of an impact on the environment than tearing it down, trashing the debris, clearing the site, crafting new materials and putting up a replacement from scratch. This makes some basic sense, even without looking at the numbers.”

“Retrofit an existing building to make it 30 percent more efficient, the study found, and it will essentially always remain a better bet for the environment than a new building built tomorrow with the same efficiencies. Take that new, more efficient building, though, and compare its life cycle to an average existing structure with no retrofitting, and it could still take up to 80 years for the new one to make up for the environmental impact of its initial construction.” Click here for link to article

What many people never realize is re-using an existing building is virtually always the most environmentally healthy thing we can do. Consider if the building was a warehouse or a school and we are re-using it as offices and residential it will still be “Greener” than a new building.
The existing building may or may not be a designated historic building. The reason for saving the building may not be for historical purposes. There may be other reasons including Zoning, economics or sentimentality. When a new building is built, a lot of natural resources are depleted to provide the construction materials and manufacture and ship everything. When an existing building is renovated there is environmental saving in a steel, wood or masonry structure that already exists. The exterior brick or siding is already there. There may even be interior walls that can be re-used. Also there may be a combination of thousand of smaller items that can be saved and re-used – hardware for example.
It is much easier for Architects, Engineers and Contractors to say “always build a new building”. Of course for them it is easier because they are starting with clean piece of paper. It is less complicated than trying to measure and evaluate an existing building and adapt it to a new user. But these professionals don’t have to pay for the total cost of construction and pay for the utility and maintenance expenses over its lifetime. On rare occasions it does make sense to start new, but this is acceptable when, for example, Target wants to build a store where an ice cream stand or gas station is.

16 January 2012

15 Ways Your Home Can Make You Infertile

By: Eric Hagerman, This Old House online

Making a Healthy Home

“Getting pregnant isn't always as easy as it looks on TV. Some 7.3-million American women have trouble becoming pregnant or staying pregnant. Doctors can't explain what's wrong for about 10 percent of the couples who can't conceive, and some experts suspect the culprit is all around us: environmental contaminants, particularly in the home.

That may help explain why male sperm counts are dropping, and it's a fact that the male contributes to infertility about 40 percent of the time. Toxins in your couch, vinyl floor, and other spots where you may have made attempts to expand your family could be throwing a wrench in your reproductive works. As much as we like to see home as a benevolent vessel of our dreams, the materials and chemicals they're made of and furnished with—from flame-retardant cushions to Teflon pans—can quash those dreams. Here's what to look for, and what you can do about it.”

Click here for the article 

A lot of good mini subjects about household items to avoid. We have known most of their bad effects for other reasons. Now there are more reasons people wanting to have children should avoid them.

“Soy: Doesn’t Bring Joy” – This one that surprised me, worth reading.

Natural mattresses are not as hard to find as it may seem. They might not be readily available from your semi-local big box or discount furniture store. Our daughter has a natural mattress made from cotton, wool and latex. We bought it from USA Baby and didn’t need to look forever to find it. The mattress was in stock, the crib was ordered out.

10 Ways Your House Can Kill You

By: Keith Pandolfi, This Old House online

Danger on the Homefront

"We love our homes. They provide us with warmth, shelter and, best of all, security. That's why it's so darn shocking when they turn against us. Like it or not, a house can be a virtual arsenal of lethal weapons. Whether its poisonous gasses, fiery flames, rabid bats or electrocuting appliances, even the sweetest Colonial Revival can be as armed and dangerous as Rambo on a bad day. Here are 11 ways our home sweet homes can take us down. “

Click here for the article 

The most important but not obvious ones are:

“Mold” A lot of people don’t realixe how easy it is to get mold in your house. Even a very minor roof leak, say a few drops every time it rains, can cause mold to grow on the backside of drywall. Normal drywall is surfaced front and back with paper. Paper is the favorite food for mold. The unfortunate thing is it usually starts on the backside where you can’t see it. It virtually never disappears on its own. The drywall must be removed by professional mold abatement specialists. Not removing it could result in chronic illness.

“Chemically Packed Paint Fumes” Painting a home’s interior with just any paint that you buy off the shelf will be dangerous to your health If you pick the wrong one. That new paint smell*, which may make people notice that something was recently completely, could be causing health problems. When buying paint for your home make sure it is “Zero VOC” – Sherwin Williams uses the label “Harmony” to identify it. If “Zero VOC is not available either avoid that brand or supplier of interior paint or opt for “Low VOC”. I would still avoid “Low VOC” whenever possible due to the fact that “Low” essentially means it will only irritate you a little bit. Also improperly storing non-“Zero VOC” paint can lead to health problems too. In one situation several years ago I looked at a house for sale that was newly painted inside. The realtor was proud to point out that the seller just completed painting all the rooms. Unfortunately the smell from the off-gassing was so bad that my sinuses were swelling up and burning. I would never consider buying that house.

*This new paint smell applies to other things. The new car smell is usually not healthy as it is off gassing of dangerous chemicals. For instance Volkswagen’s interiors are made from Zero and Low VOC materials. That is the reason that their cars have almost no new car smell. Some other competitors do not take the step to care about the issue but fortunately more are catching up.

Golden Rule to VOC’s: If it has, or is made from, petroleum based chemicals, it is dangerous to your health at some level.

28 February 2011

It's Offical - Fiat is Back!

Yes, those are U.S. flags and the Fiat logo and yes it is a Fiat Dealership Studio.  This is Bergstrom Fiat in Milwaukee one of three dealerships open in the U.S.  The other two are in Los Angeles and Washington D.C.  In addition to these there will be 180 more dealerships opening this year.  There is a bit of irony here because that is a former Hummer Dealership that closed due to lack of sales and the pending GM bankruptcy.  Now the building will be selling cars that have fuel economy of up to 40 m.p.g. and amongst the lowest polluting cars sold in the U.S.  Fiat stopped importing cars in 1982.  In 1992 VW almost stopped but instead gave it one more try and succeded - VW is now the world's second largest producer of automobiles and is narrowing in on Toyota.  Hopefully the re-entry into the U.S. will help Fiat in world wide sales.  Fiat now owns 20% of Chrysler and will own 35% by the end of 2011.  Fiat, without Chrysler and not selling cars in the U.S., ranks sixth largest and if Chrysler is counted in the next two years it should be fourth behind Ford.

It is wonderful being in Milwaukee and being one of the first open.  Fiat had mentioned that the Midwest was the last region of the U.S. to get the cars (we buy more domestics than the other areas of the country).  But the new Fiat 500 is not entirely an "import".  It is built in North America and technically a Chrysler Group car.  I could explain why but to do so would need much more time with an all new blog post that would be longer than this one.  The engine and transmission are assembled in Michigan and final assembly is in the Chrysler plant in Toluca, Mexico.
Look Daddy!  Its baby Fiat car!!! (She is frozen there and too
excited to get close to it)

Baby Fiat Car! Baby Fiat Car! Baby Fiat Car!
This is baby Fiat car eye...

this is baby Fiat car nose...
and what's this daddy?

Beep! Beep!

Baby Fiat Car goes Vroom! Vroom!
Baby Fiat car is happy daddy.
She was speachless about the rear end - just screamed
for joy.

All cuteness aside, this is a serious car.  While I didn't drive it I can tell you its interior is much higher quality than a 2011 VW Jetta S and the fit and finish is up to BMW quality.  The seat position was excellent and comfortable.  At almost six feet tall I fit in the backseat comfortable but tight with just enough headroom - the same headroom as in a 2011 Dodge Charger (4 door) I just sat in at the car show.

06 February 2011

How Old Is That Tree?

How old is that tree?  It is one of the many Live Oaks that line Jones Street in Savannah Georgia.  I took a few pictures that day because I was studying the homes for authentic historical accuracy, but I didn't pay attention to the tree till today.  The historic plaque on the house to the left says it was built 1861.  The house on the right is similar vintage.  Could the tree be similar in same age?  This street has to be one of the most beautiful residential streets in North America.  The picture was taken December 20th, 2010.  These homes are in the Savannah Landmark Historic District - one of many historic districts in Savannah.  It is also one the oldest designated historic districts in the United States.

Below are a few more pictures from that block (yes that is a real gas lamp in the picture):

17 November 2010

Fiat Cinquecento Unveiled to North America Today

Today is the day that Fiat Officially announces its return to the United States.  The U.S. version of the Fiat 500, a.k.a. Cinquecento, was debuted at the L.A. International Car Show.  The car will be showing up at dealerships, called Fiat Studios, in December and will be available for sale in January.  Fiat also sent out letters of intent to 150 dealerships that applied for franchises.  Within the Fiat information released is that the EPA fuel economy
ratings for "City" and "Combined" ratings will exceed 40 m.p.g.  I am excited to see that the Fiat USA website has pricing, build configurations and Fiat paraphernalia.  More information is available on Facebook and Youtube.  Fiat has indicated that more versions will be available in the next two years.  They include convertible, four door people mover, and full electric power (already available in Europe).

11 November 2010

Milwaukee Alderpersons Support High Speed Rail

Despite what Governor Elect Walker wants, the majority of Milwaukee Alderpersons support the federally funded high speed rail system.  The Governor Elect wants the federal money to be spent on Highways and not mass transit.  The allocated money, if Wisconsin refuses it, will not go to Wisconsin, it will be re-allocated to another state.  We will also become the brunt of jokes nationwide as is already beginning - many states want this money and many of them are jealous we have it.

I want to make a simple point that everyone (including republican politicians) should be able to understand.  If I give my my money involuntarily to another entity, and there is an opportunity for some of it to come back to me, I want it.  For example if I pay Uncle Sam a $1000 (this is an example, not the actual amount) and he decides to give me $50 back for a darn good reason, I will not refuse; because if I refuse it, Uncle Sam is going to give it to another guy in a different state.  I certainly don't want some newly elected dimwit telling Uncle Sam that me and 5.6 million other Wisconsinites don't want our share of a few billion dollars.  Especially after our current Governor and many Mayors worked very, very hard to get it.

As far as job creation goes - I have one neighbor who is very busy setting up the manufacturing facility to build the high speed rail cars.  I am sure if it proceeds as planned many people will find themselves involved, even I could be involved with designing one of the train stations.

I do not know why the manual on "How to be a Good Republican" says "thou shall hate high speed rail and all forms of mass transit".

27 October 2010

Urban Tree House, er Urban Recreation Equipment

Great article from the AP (via Yahoo) Artist builds a tree house in her backyard in a historic district in New York City's Greenwich Village and at least one neighbor apparently doesn't like it.  It is a townhouse neighborhood so the tree house can not be seen from the street.  If there was a Better Tree Houses and Tree Gardens or Tree House Digest this would definitely be a prize winning design.
As the article mentions, it was legally defined as "recreational equipment" to avoid building code compliance and historic district conformity.  This was after five years of fighting the city.  It is unfortunate that when one is designed and built this well that most municipalities can usually find a way to fine the owner and order its removal.  Hooray to NYC for allowing it to remain.  Now, can I legally pull this off in my massive maple tree in Milwaukee?  Guess I would find out what neighbors didn't like me because the code compliance inspectors here are to busy to discover it on their own.

05 August 2010

Lorelei's House Hunting Adventures

"Daddy, the front storm door needs to be replaced - just look at that aluminum corrosion near the bottom. I think we should get a wood one, it will last longer. Also the bleach blonde flush solid core door is completely inappropriate for the Craftsman style entry. And by the way, did you get a picture of that crack in the foundation wall?"

27 July 2010

Principles of Urban Design

The following is copied from the City of Milwaukee's Website.  It is a good, breif explanation of what has been called a lifestyle to many, a demographic trend movement to others and essentially the correct way to live for most of us humans.  Although this is in Milwaukee's website it is not just about Milwaukee, these are principiles that are shared and embraced amonst most urban centers.  Also many of our suburbs enjoy these qualities - suburbs such as, but not limited to, Wauwatosa, West Allis, Cudahy and Whitefish Bay.  From my house I can walk to Lake Michigan, a marina, South Shore Park, Humbolt Park, retail shops (like Outpost, Rushmor, etc.), restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries and banks.  I can also walk to a few bustops, one of which is the #15 that will go to north to Bayshore, past UWM, through Downtown and all the way South to South Milwaukee. The four Principles of Urban Design are as follows:


Cities possess a singular appeal. The proximity of people and activities in cities facilitates efficient use of land and transportation systems and creation of convivial public spaces. Milwaukee must encourage development of housing, commerce and transportation systems that embrace its urban heritage. The city must recognize its unique assets and build upon its strength as the core of a major metropolitan area.

Milwaukee County Library - Central Branch
Coordinated planning and development effectively integrate many elements. Quality housing that enhances a sense of community among neighborhood residents; attractive customer-friendly commercial streets; greenspace offering recreational amenities and a diverse array of transportation options represent only a few of the many elements that, when well designed, contribute to good urban form. Milwaukee must promote urban design practices that emphasize the public qualities of buildings and creation of places with lasting value and civic meaning.

New buildings should be designed in ways that retain the traditional qualities of Milwaukee’s architecture. This does not mean that new buildings should nostalgically imitate historical styles. In fact, to do so would be contrary to the creative design traditions that produced Milwaukee’s rich architectural legacy. Timeless design principles should be followed that produce architecture that fits with its context and is human scaled. New buildings should be designed to be compatible with neighboring structures, spaces and activities. Visually interesting and human-scaled building facades should prevail over sterile, windowless walls - especially when facing public spaces.

Diversity is the city’s unique strength. The rich mix of uses found in Milwaukee’s neighborhoods provides convenience, vitality and individual identity. The transportation network binds the city together. Milwaukee must be organized around a transportation network that offers mobility choice. Needs of pedestrians and automobiles should be balanced to create a legible, walkable and memorable public realm.

Combining good design with the city's rich architectural heritage will maintain its unique, attractive, "people-friendly" environment and further enhance Milwaukee’s residents' quality of life.

The following design principles articulate those unique qualities that characterize Milwaukee’s neighborhoods, and are meant to promote development and redevelopment that reinforce and preserve these characteristics.
Principle #1: neighborhood compatibility

A cohesive neighborhood environment depends on buildings that compliment one another. The size, shape and location of buildings as well as the uses contained within them, create "patterns" that define neighborhood character. New development should be compatible with the pattern of its surrounding context.

Development that adheres to this principle will:
A. Relate to the physical character and scale of the neighborhood
B. Enhance linkages to surrounding uses, especially public services and amenities (schools, parks, mass transit)

Principle #2: pedestrian friendly design
Cities are for people, and an environment designed to accommodate the pedestrian heightens human experience and sense of place. New development should be designed to create attractive, comfortable and safe walking environments.

Development that adheres to this principle will:
A. Locate buildings to define street edges and corners
B. Enliven street frontages to enhance the pedestrian experience
C. Create memorable places for people

Principle #3: land use diversity
Many Milwaukee neighborhoods are comprised of a rich mix of land uses. Such diversity uses land efficiently, provides for neighborhood convenience and contributes to unique urban experiences.

Development that adheres to this principle will:
A. Encourage a compatible mix of uses at the neighborhood scale
B. Identify opportunities for shared uses

Principle #4: transportation diversity
Milwaukee’s neighborhoods are connected by a functional circulation network of streets and blocks. This system should be maintained and improved in ways that accommodate various modes of transportation balanced with needs for pedestrians.

Development that adheres to this principle will:
A. Create a balanced circulation system that accommodates mobility choice (pedestrians, automobiles, bicycles and transit)
B. Enhance public transportation by making it more comfortable and convenient to use

City of Milwaukee, 1898

21 July 2010

Gas Tax – Do It!

Politicians have to accept the fact that funding for paying for transportation projects needs to come from increased gas tax. We need to stop paying for transportation projects out of our income taxes, sales taxes and user fees.

It is time to make the people and corporations that CHOOSE to use the roads the most pay for it in every gallon of fuel they use.

1. This will penalize those who chose to drive less fuel efficient vehicles.
2. It will benefit those that choose to drive more efficient vehicles and/or use alternative fuel.
3. It will penalize those who chose to drive more miles per year than the average person.
4. It will benefit those who drive less and seek alternative modes of transportation.
5. It will penalize those people and corporations for choosing less efficient means of product transportation – i.e.: truck transportation vs. train transportation.
6. It will benefit those that choose train transportation and those that purchase and produce locally.

Other countries believe in using the gas tax as the only source of transportation funding. These are the countries with the best railroads and mass transit systems. They are also the countries with the most fuel efficient cars. These are often the countries where people have the freedom to choose to buy a car – they are not required to be dependent on a car as their only source of transportation.

Of course I will be looking for all those reductions in my other taxes and fees.  It should be very noticeable.