Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Going "Green" in a century-old Bed & Breakfast.

I hear the lament that it's not easy being "green". In Vancouver, where Greenpeace was founded, we tend to be unabashed tree-huggers. Wilderness exists virtually in our backyards or certainly within sight of them. So - if we want the bears and cougars to continue to roam our local mountains, then we had better start carrying our own cloth grocery bags - yes? Somehow, it doesn't seem enough.

Then, there is energy conservation. Sure, everyone would like to burn less gas when the price is up. But when the price at the gas-pump eases off, I find myself thinking that I can just drive my SUV another year or so, until the carmaker can hybridize it.

Then, there is my problem of owning a hundred year-old home with hardly any insulation in it. Vancouver has always had one of the mildest climates in Canada and back in the Edwardian era, circa 1907 or so, it was apparent that the builders of this three-story frame house were more interested in building something less frivolous than the romantic fancies built under Queen Victoria. This four-square, symmetrical house has curb appeal due to its dimension, scale and balance. It was built for our grey, misty winters to maximize the light. Over-sized, double-hung windows, dormer casements, cut, leaded and stained glass decorative panes are designed to let the light in, NOT to keep the heat in or the cold out. The Douglas Fir beams, frames and floors remain strong, straight and true to this day but those wooden walls did not have an ounce of R-factor insulation.

Up in the large, top-floor attic room, probably intended as the children's playroom, there is only one lone furnace vent. I guess the kids were intended to dress in woolens and bundle together at night. Fortunately, a gas fireplace adds enormous heat to the room whenever needed. It appears that the house may have been converted to natural gas heating at the same time as "rock wool" was laid in the attic crawlspaces. The original bags for this form of insulation were left behind in the attic and they are conveniently dated 1941. Non-toxic and better than nothing.

I bought the house in 1989 with the intention of creating Nelson House B & B. There are are two other gas fireplaces in the the downstairs parlours. I soon realized that the chimney drafts were inadequate to prevent both furnace heat and fireplace heat from funnelling up the chimneys. I replaced all three primitive gas heaters with new gas inserts and properly sealed the fireplaces themselves. I followed that with some basic weatherstripping on doors and windows. It was a beginning at energy conservation but only just the start.

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