Keep Tahoe Blue (and housing green!)
We just had our last build day in Stockton, CA, where we worked on roofing, countertops, and building fences for several homes in a neighborhood entirely built by Habitat for Humanity. While our Bike and Build group hasn't had a chance at any of our build sites to work on framing (which many find the most rewarding and exciting), it's really awesome to think about the vast amount of construction experience we've gotten on this trip. More intimate knowledge about each stage of construction definitely makes me more appreciative of the effort that goes into building a house. I feel pretty confident that I can carry a very well-informed conversation with my parents, who are in the midst of renovating (well, practically rebuilding) their future home!
I really enjoyed our last two build days. The past two Habitat for Humanity affiliates with whom we've worked, in Sparks, NV and Stockton, CA, have both emphasized their efforts on being green and environmentally friendly. (In my head, this seems very expected; the more west we go, the more environmentally conscious the communities are!) Both affiliates, in their introductions, discussed the steps they were taking to reduce waste and ensure that the future homeowners had energy efficient (and thus more affordable) homes.
Matt, our construction manager in Sparks, was a self-proclaimed "penny pincher." He talked to us about how hard he worked to get as many recycled materials as possible, both to be less wasteful and to make the homes even cheaper for the families. In the house we worked on, the only materials not recycled or donated were the cabinets in the kitchen. The tiles and laminate flooring we installed were both recycled and donated to Habitat from someone who was renovating their home. As someone who is very passionate about sustainability, I was really excited to hear how meticulous Matt is about reducing consumption.
In Stockton, our construction superintendent George showed us a few of the steps they took to use less material. Rene, his assistant, called it "minimizing to maximize, and maximizing to minimize!"
First, in the framing of the house, they used beams every 24 inches, instead of every 16 inches, which is more standard. This method, which is equally structurally sound, reduces material use by 33%! Instead of 3 beams for every 48 inches, the house only requires 2 beams. Moreover, this leaves more room for insulation in the walls; as a result, the house, when completed, will require less energy to heat and cool.
Second, in planning the house, they made sure all of the dimensions were in multiples of 2 feet, the size most commonly available in other materials, like sheetrock or plywood. This way, they cut (and waste) less material in other stages of construction. George and Rene showed us an example of a house that was not planned this way; because one wall measured 36 feet 6 inches in length, they were left with gaps of several inches that required materials to be specially cut for that area.
Third, they arranged all the plumbing in the house to be adjacent; the kitchen sinks, dishwasher, bathroom sinks, and laundry machines were all along one wall (although separated by the rooms' walls). By doing this, the amount of plumbing material required was 30% of what is typically required in homes.
In addition to using fewer materials, they also considered the homes' future energy efficiency. George showed us how the windows in the houses did not open, which made the homes very airtight. He also explained that the cement flooring, by utilizing the average 55 degree temperature of the ground below, helped naturally cool the house. Both of these choices, in addition to a cooling unit pulls in fresh air and removes humidity, work together to create a home that takes very little energy (and money) to regulate indoor temperatures.
I was really impressed with Stockton's and Sparks' Habitat affiliates' efforts to be more environmentally conscious. Community Rebuilds, a smaller and more grassroots nonprofit in Moab, Utah, also focused on environmental sustainability by building straw bale homes that took very little energy to heat and cool. However, I can appreciate the efforts of the Habitat affiliates a little bit more, since they're taking strides in a more scalable way. Not everyone wants a home made out of straw bales, and that approach has awhile to become a widespread option. Nevertheless, I'm really happy I got the opportunity to work with a variety of different organizations and learn about how they address affordable housing issues, with maybe some environmental stuff on the side!
Speaking of affordable housing, I had a really awesome chance during our day off in Tahoe to visit one of the LEAST affordable houses possible. My friend Beth, known for her frequently visiting family members and abounding packages and letters on mail day, invited a few of us to spend the day with her grandparents' friends at their gorgeous lake front cabin. Duane and Ann Kalar were unbelievably hospitable to us strangers, and generously welcomed us into their home. They were so excited to hear about our travels and what our lives have been like these past couple months, and we got to listen to stories from their recent (and past) adventures as well. Their energy was definitely contagious! Duane, at the ripe age of 77, climbed to the top of Rubicon Peak just a week before we visited; I hope to be as active and young-at-heart when I reach his age!
During our day off in Tahoe, prior to actually starting my day, I had actually woken up to use the restroom around 6 am to witness a beautiful sunrise over the lake and mountains. When we finally woke up at our leisure around 9 am, we got out of our real beds (!!!) with the sweet smell of waffles and fresh fruit wafting through our doors and ate breakfast on the porch. Duane and Ann then took us on their boat for some tubing, which reminded me of the wonderful times I've had with my friend Stephanie at her grandparents' place in Tahoe. I felt like I was having a totally normal summer!
We ventured over to Rooster Rock, a popular place from which to jump off into the aqua and cobalt water below. I had seen pictures of this monumental rock, and was really excited for those several long seconds jumping off of it. However, we arrived at the boulder's base to find no ladder, steps, or easy footholds. Hanging from the top was a single rope with tied knots. After several attempts, the four of us decided to abandon the plan and jump off a lower, unnamed, more easily ascendable rock. But, just as I was about to go, we saw two men climb the rope of Rooster Rock and scramble up to the top. After that, and being the stubborn and resolute person I am, I knew I had to go up that boulder, and I did! Looking down from the top gave me a little vertigo, but those 4 seconds on the way to the water were thrilling!
We have our final two ride days tomorrow; I see my parents tomorrow in Palo Alto and then we have our wheel dip on Sunday in Half Moon Bay. It's hard to believe it's all coming to a close; my mind is struggling to fathom any day past Sunday. Here's to embracing uncertainty!