Innovative solutions for creating healthy, efficient, eco-friendly homes

March 2002

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Access and Power

Regardless of its other qualities, a plot of land is not a building site unless you can get there in all seasons and it can be provided with electricity. While there are people who live happily on remote islands and six miles into the woods, we will restrict ourselves here to sites you can access by ordinary two-wheel-drive vehicles and those that have electricity service from the utility company. ACCESS We generally look for land during fine weather, when the earth is dry and free of frost.

Getting the Right Gutters

With his foundation cracked and moving at glacial speed inward, my neighbor called for help. Over the phone he said he also suspected the sill was rotten. Could I come over and take a look? Is this rotting sill and cracking foundation on the north side of the house, or on a side of the house with lots of shrubs close to the wall? I asked. Yes, he said. Both. And are there any gutters on that side of the house? No, he said, sounding increasingly puzzled. And did you remove the gutters because someone told you they were creating ice dams and making your roof leak? How do you know all that?

Trouble On the Line

The only tools you need to troubleshoot your home telephones are a screwdriver and an inexpensive telephone with a modular line cord. That's right - the best piece of electronic test gear for chasing down a dead-phone gremlin is a spare $10 discount-store phone. That's essentially what the phone company repairman uses. First, however, you need a few telephone wiring basics. The telephone plugs into a modular wall jack, either along a baseboard or in a wall coverplate. The line cord has a universal modular jack (plug) at both ends, so that it is replaceable.

Windows That Work

Paying attention to details can save you energy, hassles and money. When it comes to buying windows, we can be awfully shallow. Whether for a new home or a remodeling project, we usually select our windows - casement, awning, double-hung or fixed glass - for their looks, not because they provide a tighter seal or the best natural ventilation. Convenience is important, too, as demonstrated by the fact that an entire industry has been built around the tilt-out window that allows us to clean the glass without climbing a ladder.

Brick by Brick

Peter Lachance approaches the open doors of his brick kiln, where a car of newly fired pavers has emerged. Farther down the tunnel, sheets of orange flame flash over bricks inching their way through the hottest part of the kiln. The 1,800° heat has turned them a brilliant orange. "That," he says, nodding toward the inferno, "is the closest thing to hell you're going to see." At the end of their hellish ride, the 5-pound blocks of fused clay and sand are ready for the job site.

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