Category Archives: green home

A Woman with a Garden Plan

Dreya and Alissa, permaculture designers extraordinaire

My favorite season has a officially begun; the season of eating outdoors whenever possible. This evening we had salmon burgers on our patio’s red picnic table, and it felt like our little private paradise. It’s hard to not feel madly in love with my yard this time of year. I spend as much time as physically possible there, and seem to savor the exhaustion at the end of the day. I love watching our kids’ rake and dig and play, washing off their mud at the end of the day.


And yet, even though in my estimation our yard is maybe 80% close to being complete, I obsess about the final 20%. After three full years of puttering around with various design ideas, I finally decided that it was time to hire some professional landscape designers. While I’m already fairly educated, having taken a permaculture design course in graduate school, the truth is that I could never seem to develop a wholistic design. I’ve wanted to clear out several bushes and holly tree, and Hubby always wanted a definitive “plan” before doing so (at our old place I did make a full permaculture plan, so I could never seem to find/make the time, plus there were some problematic areas where I really needed a second/third opinion). More importantly, without this illusive plan, I could never get Hubby’s buy off to purchase more than about a $100 of plants at a time. So, when we finally had some extra cash, I new a garden design was at the very top of my wish list.


I searched for permaculture designers, and was excited to find a small company of two women about my age doing landscape design and installation. Seed Garden Design has a philosophy that I aspire to as well, and just from checking out their beautiful before/after photos, I had a strong feeling that I had found the right duo to fulfill my garden dreams. They were truly a pleasure to work with, and they met with Hubby and I to gain a deeper understanding of how we want to use the outdoor space and what we view as beautiful.


Throughout the design process we met three times: first to determine the scope of the design, second to discuss likes/dislikes, and third to reveal the final design. We also had a bit of homework between sessions to help them assess our likes/dislikes better. I ended up deciding to do the full design for our front and back yards, which is a larger lot than most in Portland. The design cost $1550, and I feel it was worth it.  


I love having a full vision for my yard/garden. I can finally see its full potential, and can hardly wait to see it come into reality. We most want our yard to be kid-friendly and ready to entertain/enjoy. Plus, we want to produce more and more veggies/fruit from our garden. I also have a dream of having our yard in some type of local garden tour, so we have high hopes for our little paradise. 


We plan to pace ourselves though, and it will probably take 4-5 years to implement the full design. I bought $120 of native plants at Audubon’s native plant sale this weekend, and it felt so great to have my plant list in hand, knowing each plant had a destined place. I felt like a women on a mission…


Since I’m admittedly more inspired by plants than our finances lately, I’ll soon share some specifics of the design…which really rocks, by the way! I’ve also stared a new “permaculture garden” tag to help you find other related posts in the future.


Does your yard/garden have a plan?
How much is your yard/garden worth investing to you?


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Service Magic

Maybe it’s just because our home is over a hundred years old, but there always seems to be one home repair project or another. 


Just this past weekend, our exterior water spigot sprang a constant leak. We were actually kind of lucky that it lasted as long as it did, when we moved in three summers ago the turnoff valve didn’t work, but the on/off Y valve for the two hoses managed just fine, so we never bothered to fix it. Unfortunately, such a tenuous set up couldn’t stand the test of a five year old’s enthusiastic hose/horse play.


Since neither of us are handy beyond very basics (at least Hubby quickly found the water source to turn off!), we’ve relied on Service Magic to find small project handy-workers. Service Magic is kind of like Angie’s List, but it’s free and they do the screening for you. We used them several times to get multiple quick bids for small projects (drywall repair, window installations, chimney repair…well that was a spendy little project.)


I really like Service Magic, because it helps me feel like it gives us enough quality bids to make an informed decision. On top of being professionally screened, they are customer-rated, so you know if they ever really screwed anyone this info would be included. I also like how they help speed up the bid gathering process, because that’s not how I want to spend my time.


I’ve only ever used them for home repair, but apparently they’ve expanded to other service areas like senior care, wedding services, photography…


Have you used Service Magic for a home repair project?


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Sustainable Family Finances
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Clean Energy Works – Evaluation

It’s hard to believe, but it’s already been over a year since we finished our home energy efficiency upgrades through the Clean Energy Works pilot program. Since I’ve written on our experience pretty extensively, I want to evaluate the true energy and cost savings of the program now that I have a full year of bills to compare. 


(See previous posts: Part 1Part 2Part 3Initial EvaluationPoster Family)


For our natural gas use, from May to May, we used 54.56 Therms per month, compared to 70.49 Therms in the previous 13 months, which is a 22.6% reduction in energy use. This is despite the fact that we nearly froze here this May…truly I don’t remember ever keeping the heat on that long! While I’m pretty satisfied with those results, I am a bit perplexed by how the estimate of Therms saved in the bid is so much less in real life…they had projected 433 Therms saved, but in the first year it was only 207 Therms…I’ll have to check with our contractor to see if he knows why it’s lower.


As mentioned in the “initial evaluation” post, our previous natural gas bill had been $97. After the Clean Energy Works loan, it went up to $146.24. We are still on the even bill pay, so it’s taking a bit to catch up, but our new average for the past 14 months is $105, which includes the loan fee of $49.24. For the comfort factor alone, the $8 extra would be worth it. In the long run, we can expect to see our natural gas bill drop to $55 for an annual savings of about $500 a year.


Have you increased your energy efficiency and reduced your utility bills?


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Compost Makes a Garden!

When it comes to organic gardening, I cheat! 


…By buying organic compost by the unit (that’s 7 1/2 cubic yards). 


In Portland, one unit of organic compost delivered will run you $160. The first time we had organic mulch delivered to our old house Hubby balked at the price and wondered whether we really needed so much mulch, but once the job was done he agreed that it made everything look and grow a whole lot better. The truth is that every yard could use a whole lot more than it usually gets. If you pile it on thick enough and plant smartly, you may get away with adding more compost every few years in the flower beds. Plus, mulching conserves water by insulating the soil against the sun’s rays and retaining moisture.


I highly recommend Grimm’s…which came recommended to me. 


It’s the most cost effective way of making your yard instantly lush and beautiful …well, maybe not instantly. We had our compact car-sized compost delivery three weekends ago, and we still have a third left to spread…partly because we have to haul the compost bucket by bucket up the steps, since wheel barrows won’t go up our front yard steps. Personally, I find spreading mass amounts of compost to be one of the most gratifying jobs. 


The kiddos have also (mostly) really enjoyed helping fill the buckets with mulch or raking it into the beds…I had to laugh when Girly was stopped for a snack break of homemade organic granola bars and I noticed her hands were still covered in dark earthy mulch…call me a bad mom, but she sure looked satisfied! Plus, the dump truck sure impressed! 


Soon I’ll share about our home composting woes, but for today, I’m very satisfied with the purchased kind.


Do you have organic compost delivered by the truck load?


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Clean Energy Works Oregon – Poster Family

Last spring I shared about our participation in a pilot program called Clean Energy Works, to provide low-interest loans for home energy upgrades. Check out all the details in posts 1, 2 & 3, and my initial energy evaluation.


With the success of the pilot program, a statewide non-profit has been created to provide the services to all Oregonians (and, yes, we do hope to export this model nationally). When we first learned the program was expanding, we were eager to help out by sharing how comfortable and cozy our home as a testimonial. We were also asked if we would be willing to photographed for the promotional materials they would need to market the program, and we happily obliged. 


So, if you check out the Clean Energy Works Oregon program webpage, you’ll find our smiley family. Professional photographer, Sally Painter, took the photos. Here are a few of us (I have a feeling these goofy ones won’t be marketed, but they are still fun to share!):



Our staircase is now cozy…it used to feel like a wind tunnel!

Family poses don’t often work out…

Checking out our online utility bills…really they were!

Our old fashioned radiators work like a charm (with an efficient boiler), but now that the bump outs are insulated from below, the heat doesn’t escape!


We got the new efficient range hood as part of the loan, which means LED kitchen lighting too!


On a side note, here’s a good article about the trend of new green upgrade home loan programs.


Would you participate in Clean Energy Works Oregon if you had the opportunity?


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.