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Homeowner's Journal

January 1, 2009

Happy New Year Greenspiration Voyeurs!

I thought I’d be writing this journal entry from my new home office, but alas, I’m not. As we approached the New Year there were too many loose ends so it will be another week or so before we spend our first night in our new green home.

We did, however, visit the house on New Years Eve. Everything looked (and felt) cozy now that the construction mess is cleared and the HVAC has started up. We were thrilled with how the floors looked now that they have their 4th and final coat of polyurethane on them. I took the opportunity to lay flat on my back in the master bedroom to get feel for what it would be like watching TV from bed at night. (Very relaxing. It will be even better with a bed.)

We still have to carpet the media/bonus room, tile the kitchen backsplash, touch up all the paint, etc. Even after we move in, there will be a ton of things to do before the house is in showcase shape; but we’ll get there.

These last several weeks have been the toughest. (Have I already said that?) This is when all the pesky little glitches show up during inspections – like finding out that too much dirt was placed on top of the septic system and that the installation of the ventilation fan in the garage is in violation of a fire code. It’s all fodder for future journal entries. Right now, I must start whittling away at that long list of “IOUs” I mentioned last time, starting with my recent adventurous search for fluorescent lamps.

What the “L” Stands for in CFL

My lighting adventure began a few weeks ago when my electrician informed me that we were short a about two dozen fluorescent lamps, what we laymen typically call “bulbs.” We had somehow neglected to include them in our order for recessed lighting from Acuity Brands. Big mistake.
Don, my builder, quickly found out that finding the right lamp for all the ENERGY STAR™ fluorescent fixtures in the home was NOT as simple as running to Home Depot. These are not the screw-in kind of fluorescents that most of us are familiar with. These have prongs--I guess so you are never tempted to put in an incandescent. They are also not available in a rounded globe shape or those cute spirally types that remind me of soft serve ice cream. These are elongated tubes about as thick as your little finger. They remind me of a trombone.

Tree Hugger

Ah well… I would have to go to a specialty lighting store. No big deal; there are several in Greensboro. Like Prince Charming with the glass slipper, I took off with an extra canned fixture to assure a perfect fit.

The first lighting wholesaler I visited sent me into flashbacks of the old Sears & Roebuck mail order routine; I could sense the pending disappointment. When I finally got the terse nod from the counterperson to step forward, he looked at the canned fixture in my hand and said unsympathically, “We don’t carry these. I don’t know where you’re going to find them.”

Great. I headed toward the next place on my list—another wholesaler with a showroom and a very pleasant lady who took me directly to their fluorescent “display” which consisted of about 4 different kinds of screw-in fluorescent bulbs. I was beginning to realize that Greensboro has a little catching up to do when it comes to fluorescent lighting.

“It don’t fit, Trish.”

Luckily, another lighting wholesaler was around the corner. This place had a popcorn machine! I felt better already. They were out of popcorn, but they did have lamps to fit my canned light. I watched a disinterested young man test one just to make sure it fit. He then disappeared into the back, returning with two boxes of a dozen lamps each. Yippee. I hopped into my not-so-fuel-efficient SUV and headed back to the jobsite where I smugly handed the lamps over to Charlie, my electrician. Problem solved.

I was about to drive away when he came running from the house, waving frantically.
“It don’t fit, Trish!”

“What?!!! What do you mean it doesn’t fit?’ I watched the guy push the bulb into the can you gave me. How can it not fit?”

Charlie smiled and shrugged. “It don’t fit.”

Turns out the charm-school-counter rep grabbed the wrong box of lamps from the back. (Those Sears & Roebuck flashbacks were getting really strong now.) Once again, I got back into my SUV to return to the place from whence I came, thinking that disinterest and apathy were the real culprits to our disappearing ozone.

This time another gentleman helped me. I liked him better; he was more focused. He examined the bulbs, examined the holes in the fixture, and finally declared that he didn’t think they carried anything that would work. But, of course, I knew better because I had watched the other guy put one in the can.

By this time, I had Allan Laurin’s number (my contact at Acuity) programmed into my cell phone. For the third time that day, I called him and handed the phone over to the gentleman helping me. At last Allan convinced him that the lamps he had would not present a safety hazard.

All this time I had been eyeing these strange trombone-like bulbs with certain amount of … aesthetic concern. As I said, these particular fluorescent lamps are not presently available in globe styles. As a result, when you look up into the canned fixture, you see the tubes hanging down. The guy at the popcorn place (yes, I’m being mean and sarcastic at this point) assured me I wouldn’t notice, and wanting to believe him, I took my two dozen lamps and headed back out to the jobsite.
It was nearly 5PM by the time I arrived and Charlie was waiting. This time I followed him into the house and watched him push the lamp into one of the kitchen cans.

Family Room Wall
Kitchen lights.

It fit! But as I had feared, it also looked ridiculous! The tube hung just below the bottom of the can, making my canned lights look as though they were harboring something slightly pornographic. I could hear my friends asking me which adult bookstore I found them at.

I had one last hope—a shorter version of the same bulb. Allan Laurin had assured me such a thing existed and offered to send me some, but I was determined to resolve the problem that day. I decided to try one more place, Illuminating Technologies. (Ironically this was the closest lighting wholesaler to the jobsite, yet the last one I try...)

These were the nicest, most helpful people I’d encountered all day. I stood in the owner’s office while he conversed with Allan on my cell phone and sifted through various catalogs to find the right bulb. (Very nice man; turns out we were both in the Jaycees together many years ago.)

Unfortunately, he was out of stock on the shorter length fluorescents, BUT he could get them in really fast. I gave him the go ahead and practiced the Serenity Prayer for the next couple of days while I waited for the bulbs to arrive. When they did, I picked them up and dashed out to the jobsite with knots in my stomach. I held my breath while the tallest person on the jobsite that day inserted the bulb into a kitchen can.

It fit! It worked! And it looked … pretty good.

Tree Hugger

These shorter lamps are only about 2/3 of the interior length of the can so they were substantially less noticeable. Unless you stand right under one and look up, you’d probably never give it a thought. FYI, ENERGY STAR™ proclaims that if every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified bulb, it would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars. So when I do look up at the bulbs, it’s a nice reminder of that. And it doesn’t make me blush.

Here’s one last true but touching story: A couple of days ago Environmental Solutions Group was onsite conducting the blower door test so I could get my Energy Star Certification. Andrew Courts, one of the E-STAR raters said to me, “You know the two things I like most about your house?”

I expected him to say something about the floors. Everybody always loves floors.

“I love the recycled glass countertops. And I LOVE that you used the real CFLs.”

I lit up like a 100 watt bulb. (I mean lamp.)





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