When we decided to go as healthy as we could with building materials for this house, we were surprised at the lack of resources in this day and age of "awareness" about so many things.
Since we had gone to all the trouble to have reduced-chemical plumbing pipes (in the house at least, can’t control what was outside), we naturally wanted our "finished" plumbing fixtures to be as free from toxins as we could. That, my friends, was not an easy task.
Trying to keep excess toxins out of this house
build is just as frustrating as when you go on a special diet and
try to avoid certain things– only to find out that they are
everywhere and in everything and you can’t eat anything but
And as long as I’m complaining here, I’ll tell you about the many days of labor that I have no pictures for. It was too boring for photographs. Days of combing through the web looking for lead-free faucets.
If any of you have done the research, you will know that in the USA lead-free doens’t mean exactly that. I’m not even sure “zero lead” means that either. The rules allow for a little bit of lead to be present in all potable water faucets. It's no big deal, according to almost everybody, but since we had had a cancer scare, things like that are a bit more of a thought process for us. What other parts are we connecting to this? Do certain metals react and leach? What about the chemicals to glue things together? This part isn't regulated by that law yet, is there a substitute for that part? Etc Etc. We were looking for more than an ordinary person would look for.
Somewhere along the way, I found out that all the pretty, $30 Chinese faucets on Amazon aren’t in compliance with the low-lead law, and indeed are illegal to install in a new build. So as long as we had to look at faucets three or more times the cost of what we had hoped, we may as well buy the most absolutely lead-free faucet we could find. When I did find one, it was rather ugly or hugely expensive (or both).
Making your own faucet is not exactly a DIY project you want to take on when building a house, although that thought did cross our minds.
For the kitchen, thankfully there was an acceptible option at the big-box store (Delta Diamond seal). I was able to find ONE bathroom faucet for under $100 from an obscure company that claimed it had no lead. My next dilemma is to find a tub-filler that has little or no lead, because there is no regulations on tub fillers. Yeah yeah, I know, "just don’t drink the water…."
Looking for lead-free plumbing was exhausting, demoralizing and frustrating. Although you can find completely lead-free kitchen faucets and restaurant faucets (not just saying “lead free” and meaning “minimum allowed by government” but all lead-free), there’s no such thing for the shower or tub faucets. And to top it all off, people think you are really a nut-job if you dare to even look for no-lead plumbing.
We had gone to a lot of trouble to keep our water supply as low-chemical as possible, but could not control the one little plumbing connection (that is fully leaded because the gov’t hasn't regulated it yet) or this or that portion of the system that allows some lead. You just can’t escape it. At least we have minimized it to even beyond “government minimum” levels. (And wouldn't you know it, our area had a water emergency for a short time which necessitated us putting in a drinking water filter anyway. So we are pretty sure our water is safe to drink, if you want to come over for tea!)
Moving on from the faucets, we had other bathroom fixtures to find. How about a replacement for my claw-foot tub?
We were initially sold on a few acrylic freestanding tubs. Acrylic is light weight, warm to the touch, etc. You just have to be careful cleaning it. If it gets scratched though...hmm...oh dear.
What is this stuff made out of? They mix things with the acrylic… what do they mix in? Chemicals? Does it leach if scratched? What do you use to repair it? Sometimes you have a simple question about something, maybe you never thought about questioning before...We reached out to companies and people who watchdog toxic house materials, with no results. Apparently no one had thought these thoughts before.
The little bit we could find out about things made out of acrylic mixtures (mostly baby cup research) made us shy away from having plastic anything as a surface material. We were sick of the whole thing– tubs, showers, water bottles, baby cups, pacifiers. Bah!
I felt that we were wasting our life trying to figure it all out. When you look at the time spent in the course of your life researching things on the internet (because local building suppliers are no help on this subject)… it’s depressing. We could used all that time to compose a symphony, write a novel, or run for President. I find it hard to believe, but either we were pioneers in non-toxic house building, or Google wasn't smart enough back then to give us the results we needed!
We had created a place of honor for it under the arch in the Master bathroom, but it was too tight of a squeeze once the wallboard was on (measure twice, I know... ). And just as we had realized that new difficulty, my husband read something that said 75% of tubs made before 1970 contain lead. It is not a problem unless there are nicks, scratches, or any damage to the tub, and ours had quite a bit of those. One lead test later and this thing had to go!
Yes, I know that the water would dilute the lead. Yes, I know that if we didn't drink the water it would be okay. Yes, I know we could have told that to the toddler twenty times per bath.
We looked into re-glazing it, but we had to consider what our priorities were with getting in this house, expenses, time, etc. and at the moment we were not up for that. You have to reglaze every ten years or so (and knowing us, we would have to find out what chemical soup was involved in the reglazing process). We decided to be done with it; maybe someone would like a DIY project.
I listed the tub online as "free," stipulating that football players were needed to lift it. My husband figured it was worth giving it away if he never had to lift that tub again.
I then spent time fielding the most objectionable takers! "Oh just don't drink the water." "Just don't lick the tub." There were also a lot of folks who thought they didn't need to bring help. I guess not too many folks know football players.
While I was answering texts and emails about the tub, giving out our address to people who didn't show up, reading mocking comments about our listing, and other things that make for a nerve-wracking week, the builders decided that they needed to finish that floor underneath the tub. Forget the football players, my fellows would be carrying that tub again. Downstairs, off the porch, down the hill, to the bottom.
We re-listed it for $100 after that.
(I should have had it listed for $200, with $100 going to me for emotional distress!)
Eventually a man and his young son came to get it. He didn't care that it was all scratched up and contained lead. He wanted it for an outdoor bathing experience. So, the tub went full circle. And of course my boys had to help lift it for him.
We were so blessed to have our own home-grown carpenter on site!
He was on hand to tackle all kinds of custom projects! We seem to excel in making custom projects. That is one thing I learned about drawing house plans-- just because you can make it fit on paper doesn't mean it will work out in real life. I feel like we have truly meshed together the learning experience of architects and builders!
I'm not sure if I mentioned our "close call" with roofing. After our main roof was put on, the porch roofing purchase needed to be postponed while other things were done first. By the time we were ready for the rest of the roofing, the supplier was closing shop and retiring! We were able to get our particular roofing made one more time to finish up.
Fitting the roof to the back stoop!
And another huge progress was the DIY install of the front porch roofing a few weeks later. You can see that we had a good frosty overlay on our underlay one morning. You cannot escape that sense of urgency when winter threatens and you know that you have to get your building buttoned up! I think I know just a wee bit of what the animals must have inside them when smell that bit of frost in the air. If the good weather would just hold on long enough...
And it did. One more section to roof remained, the sides, and they would prove one of the hardest things in this whole building to do. But at least the large front porch was finally waterproof!
There you have it, a month and a half of Saturdays (and Sundays) and we were just in time for the first (and rather early) snow.
Let's talk for a moment about "Style."
We did not go with one particular "style" (consistently) for this house. We were inspired by many. We like deep trim, recessed windows, high ceilings. I would say the overarching influence is "Craftsman," especially on the exterior; but there was inspiration from Post-And-Beam, Farmhouse, Modern Farmhouse, and a hodge-podge of lovely house photos done by architects (found on Houzz.)
One style that I am not terribly fond of is the "Industrial." That is where things like metal pipes are left exposed. However, the Modern Farmhouse style had a bit of that. Done well, it wasn't bad (or maybe I had been looking at too much of it...). There are spots in our house that could possibly be filed under "industrial."
When those you know and love working so hard in front of your eyes you value whatever they do much more than anyone else would. Also being intimately acquainted with the construction of a structure like this is gives you very special feelings about it.
We have a lot of wood in our house, and though most interior designers and architects talk about the "warmth" of wood, there is something else about it I am not sure I can put into words.Perhaps because it was a living thing, or that it had been through many processes, hands, and travel to get to us, it feels like the wood has a story to tell and should be left exposed. Even these stamps from the mill add "character" to the place.
I thought I would just confess that now.
I'm hoping to get back into regular blogging after this extended holiday break. I have thought how best to keep presenting this house-building saga that won't bore all of you. When I first started blogging about it here I did just a picture and a sentence, as presenting this subject to the general public was pretty overwhelming. Obviously I could not keep up the minimalist version!
So far I have been trying to keep the house posts chronological, but I have been thinking more lately about making them topical. Longer, topical posts will not convey the time spent, which is a pity because one of the reasons I am writing about this is to help anyone who is thinking about DIY building a house: It takes a LONG time and I want to accurately represent that! But I think they might be more interesting as we get into places like the kitchen.
Now back to the porch lights!
We bought cheap outdoor light fixtures at the local store because:
#1 at this point in the build, $5 light fixtures were looking pretty good!
#2 they were acceptable (had an old-fashioned look to them)
#3 they were abundant (in stock)
#4 they were cheap-- oh did I already mention that?
These inexpensive, acceptable lights were clear, and once they were installed we realized that it wasn't so pleasant looking at the bare bulb through the glass. So I bought a can of spray paint to turn the clear glass into faux "milk glass." Not to make them look cheaper, and not to annoy the builders by asking that all 7 lights be taken down and re-installed around the entire house, but just to tame that bare bulb look.
I learned some lessons about spray paint. First of all, when they tell you to go over the object several times with light coats, be patient and do what they say! There will be spots where you will think you missed, because the coats are thinner in those places. Do not be tempted to just “spot paint” it to fix it! I was a pro until the very end, when I succumbed to temptation. However, only I know where to look for those mistakes, and I would say they turned out pretty good overall.
Had they been more expensive fixtures, I am not sure I would have had the courage to take spray-paint to them.
Having outdoor lights aglow surely makes a house look like a welcoming home!