Monday, July 21, 2008

Floor finishes

Our new pine floor is in, and I'm in the process of finishing it. I went with a penetrating oil finish rather than a polyurethane. Initially I looked at Osmo Hardwax and Bioshield as more ecological options, but in the end I wanted to use a finish without any petroleum distillates or metal dryers.
It turns out that oil finishes are widely used in Europe, and most of the options come from there. There is more information here:

There are actually many options of penetrating oil wood finishes. This is a list of the ones I've found:

Osmo Polyx Oil
Bioshield oil and wax products
Land Ark
Velvit (nice collection of stain colors)
Sutherland Welles
Tried and True Wood Finish
Tung oil
Weather Bos
AFM Naturals Oils

WOCA (previously Trip Trap)

None of these were easily available locally. Some were available 45 minutes or more away. I thought I would be ordering whatever I chose. The exception is Waterlox, which does tend to be more available, and it was my fallback.

My choice was driven by my desire to go domestic, and to avoid petroleum distillates. Although I worried about the length of time some finishes took to dry, as I researched I discovered that many of the other finishes also take a while (a week or more) to dry, and I imagine that quicker drying is due to drying chemicals. I also had a strong preference not to sand between coats. In the end I went with Land Ark. I make no claim to have tested or thought of everything – I haven't. But time was running short and I liked Land Ark.

I put on four coats over five days, and have just finished buffing the floor. In fact, I feel a little like this laptop is moving back and forth in an uncontrollable way just like the buffer! I think I'm done. If I paint the walls, the room will be unused for another week at least, allowing the oil to dry and floor to cure further. It is not perfect now, and as time passes, it will be less so. But my hope is that it develops a patina, rather than becoming shabby looking!

Here's a picture of my floor (before the final coat and buffing):

[Some safer poly-type products I came across: AFM Safecoat, Vermont Natural Coatings.]

It's now very clear that the walls need to be painted, which wasn't on the short-term to-do list. However, I think I'll go for it anyway. I'm going to try to pick up some Mythic paint on Friday on the way to Fenway Park. There are no dealers near me, but there are dealers in the Boston area. Mythic is non-toxic, which is a big step up from simply low- or even no-VOC, and it gets good reviews from people who have used it. I'll be looking to match the BM Honeywheat color that I used in our family room.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Heating Options for the Winter

For a few years now I've had in the back of my mind the thought that we needed to know how we would heat our house when oil became problematic. The time is here, and we're not ready. Our neighbor is converting from oil to natural gas. I'm not convinced that is right for us. For one thing, if we're spending a lot of money, I'd rather spend it on a system that taps into renewable energy sources, not simply a different non-renewable fossil fuel. For another, my understanding is that in the long run, gas and oil prices track each other.

The alternative heating market is not ready for all us New Englanders who heat with oil and are looking to switch now. I have friends using wood either in wood or pellet stoves. Although wood is renewable to some extent, it's not clean. We have a neighbor who uses wood, and although I enjoy the smell of the wood smoke, I think if my other six close neighbors were using wood, the neighborhood would be unpleasantly full of smoke. And what are those pellets really made of, anyway? And I suspect wood prices will rise as more people switch to it. We have a fireplace with heating rods and a blower, and we may use that more this winter, but wood is a lot of work – it has to be cut, split, stacked, carried, and swept up after. And the fire has to be tended. However, we have some uncut logs out back, and it might be time to put in that work and burn some wood this winter. I'm not sure I can use a chain saw and a splitter with my kids asking me questions and trying to help, though!

We are thinking about building one or more of these solar window heaters (there are other versions around the web). Our south facing windows are on the back side of the house, and we have six double-hung windows back there. There are some trees, but in the winter there are no leaves, and I think the sunlight is still significant. We may build one and see if we think it works. We like this option because it's cheap and we can try it out without cutting holes in our house. They may require some babysitting when the sun is not shining (closing the vents), but it seems that it would be minimal, and nearly free heat would be worth it. The fireplace is in a different room, allowing us to heat two rooms without oil (and very possibly more if we can move the heat around) and paying more attention to heating only where we need it would allow us to save some oil. I'm also looking for more blankets for the beds. For now, we'll stick with our one year old oil hot water heater.

Solar heating seems to be the exception. Solar systems generally seem to be for electricity or hot water. Right now my primary interest is in heat. Our electricity bill is not overwhelming, and neither is our summer oil bill for hot water – our heating oil bills could be. We buy about six tanks of oil a year, and last year I had one bill of about $800.

I'm still looking for a long term solution. Perhaps a heat pump or geothermal system? I have a pipe dream of a few neighbors sharing a geothermal system, but the septic systems might get in the way. I don't generally look to the government for advice, but I wish someone would suggest the right way to jump.