Upcoming Events

Sunday, November 14, 2010

For those leaky toilets out there...

Announcing: there is an official date for the workshop in December!
If no other requests for workshops are received (you still have time to submit a request by the way), the workshop will be on plumbing basics.

We will talk about the various ways to construct, alter and repair plumbing systems, and there will be a discussion on the pros and cons of copper, pex and aquatherm as plumbing materials. The workshop will be very hands-on, so expect to learn how to solder, how to repair broken water lines, etc.

Workshop details:

December 22nd, 5pm-6pm
153 Eaton St.

Free, open to all. Bring a jacket since it can be a little chilly that time of year! Hot cocoa will be served since that is my favorite winter drink (tea is also an option...). Hope to see you there!


Monday, November 1, 2010

Resuming workshops (fingers crossed!)

Haven't reported in a while, but there is some good news in the works: free home repair workshops are likely to resume at the house, albeit in a limited capacity. There are no scheduled dates as of yet, but look for a workshop happening in mid to late December, the week before Christmas. Also, the subject of the workshop is not decided, so if anyone is looking to gain home repair skills in a specific field, please email buffalobasics@gmail.com with requests for workshops. The deadline for requests is December 12th.

As always, you are welcome to stop by the house to talk to Pat and Brendan about future workshops or for tips in home repair, and you can chat with Maura about baking on Thursdays and Fridays. Happy Halloween everyone, and hope to see you soon at a workshop!


Finishing wood...cuckoo for coconut oil?

First post since settling in at Yestermorrow (in Vermont) for six months...

Lately, I am into learning about different treatments for wood, especially for wood that will be used in eating, such as cutting boards and spoons. I have learned that once again, it is simply a matter of common sense; if I would not eat the oil, I should not put it on the wood I will be eating off of. Seems self-explanatory, no?

Then again, susceptibility to rancidity must be taken into account. For example, I should not treat wood with olive oil since it is much more susceptible to rancidity than say walnut oil or almond oil. …but walnut oil is not extremely common, is it? I opted for coconut oil…I read it is a good way to treat wood due to its low rancidity…we’ll see how it works out. Secondly, something I did not even realize, which may be an extremely important topic to consider if giving wood gifts as a present, is allergies. If someone is allergic to walnuts, don’t treat the wood with walnut oil. Same with coconut. Makes sense, but if you are not allergic to any foods, it is not something that would immediately come to mind in choosing finishes.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Moving out and moving in

So I'm off on my 3 month journey around the country, but replacing me at the house will be Pat and Brendan...two awesome guys who will be continuing work on the house! They're open to learning and willing to share any of their own knowledge, so if you're interested in learning a bit more about their ideas (think living walls, woodburning stoves, etc) or have a question about home repair, stop by and say hello!

Wish Maura a fun trip (she's finally taking a vacation!) as the bread for this season is over. Don't fret though! Its all starting up again come September. Look on her blog for details on upcoming baking workshops, and please contact her if you'd like to help in the baking coop.

Until next time,

Friday, June 25, 2010

Coughing and wheezing be gone!

Have you ever had the experience of going to the paint store, picking out your favorite color of paint JUST for this one room and (knowing it will match perfectly and all the people in the paint store are envious of your dream room with its dream color) getting home and popping off the lid only to be greeted with a fit of nausea from the toxic smell?

Maybe not, but think hard about the contents of paint...why do you have to dispose of oil paints in a special way? Why does it smell so terrible?? You think there must be something not natural in the mixture, you say? Hey, we must be twins because you just thought the same thought that I did only days ago! Instead of choosing to suck it up and stomach the fumes, I experimented with natural paint recipes with ingredients I could count on one hand and pronounce! The first (and only) that I tried is casein paint. Basically all you do is leave milk in the sun to curdle, combine it with some clay, water and lime (not the fruit) and voila! Oh, and add some pigment if you don't want the whole house to be a brown color. Maura and I were really afraid of the results, thinking it would smell of spoiled milk and stay the odd puke-yellow that it started out as...but no need to worry, there is NO smell and the puke yellow turned to a beautiful/bright earthy yellow! I experimented with my own ratios, but I generally followed the recipe at Mother Earth News.

Casein Paint with Lime (Yields about 1 quart)

1 gallon nonfat milk
2 1/2 ounces “Type S” lime (dry powder available at hardware stores)
2 1/2 cups water
Natural earth pigment (more or less depending on desired color)
6 cups filler (usually whiting, I used clay because it's free)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Countertops and Orange Sinks

Because the kitchen is a priority for Maura to be able to teach baking workshops in during stormy weather, we have been working on finishing the cabinets and countertops. Speaking of workshops, the baking workshop on prefermenting went really well. See photos here. We even were audience to a great accordion performance!

For the countertop we chose is an oversized door. We wandered Buffalo ReUse, looking for something that was countertop-like. Originally, we thought we might just get the corian that they had hidden in the back, but why go boring? The door used to be a swinging door, presumably in a kitchen somewhere. What better reuse than restoring it to its original location? Perhaps it won’t serve as an entranceway, but it will serve an equally (if not more) important role in the kitchen.

Like a normal countertop, we had to cut the sink hole with a jigsaw, and then we threw the crazy orange-red sink into the mix! The two problems that remained were: a) it was a paneled door and b) wood + water = icky combination. The first problem was addressed by adding tiling in the middle of the panels, raising the level of the panels to be even with the thicker part of the door. The second problem was solved using a product suggested by my friend Carrie. She told me about this super effective polyurethane that is used on boats that keeps all moisture from entering into the wood. Now, I admit polyurethane should be avoided in most cases, but when it is a countertop that encounters water CONSTANTLY…I think it is ok to use. Perhaps not, but anyone know any other solution to using the polyurethane that keeps the wood from getting ruined?

This week we will be working on shelving and cabinets, maybe starting work on the flooring in the side entrance, installing a bathroom cabinet, etc. If you’re interested in learning any of these things or other things, let me know! We can always set up a last minute workshop. For now, I am taking a day off. Swimming at the beach in Canada, enjoying Father’s Day with my Dad and both of my grandfathers!


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Baking Workshops and Tiling Kitchens

Now offering baking workshops!
Ok, so they're not home repair workshops, BUT Fancy & Delicious is offering baking workshops at the house! If you want to learn, please RSVP and come to the baking workshop on Sunday June 13th, 12 to 5pm. There is still no serious workshop schedule because I'll be leaving mid July, but we are furthering the vision by continuing to experiment with reused items and setting up the kitchen so that Fancy & Delicious will be able to offer baking workshops inside during the cold, winter months! If you are interested in learning to build cabinets or install a kitchen sink, stop by the house sometime this week.

Yes, a lot of progress has been made in the kitchen. Namely, a frame for the cabinets and sink...AND tiling. An example of reuse: we used electrical outlet covers as tiles! It's hard to see in the photo, but they turned out looking super cool. I'll report on how they hold up...

Good news: Despite my leaving, Maura has been talking of inviting others to teach an increased range of workshops. We all have our talents and we all should share our knowledge with others! Whether it be gutter replacement or bee keeping or playing the sousaphone! Keep this in mind if you'd like to share your talent with others...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hard-Hatted Women

I was looking through the used books on Amazon the other day and found a book that I thought I'd share: Hard-Hatted Women, edited by Molly Martin. Now, usually I am searching for "how to" repair books or green design books to add to the library, but I just happened to stumble on this one and thought I would read through it since it somewhat pertains to me...

If you hadn't guessed, it's a book of true stories about women in the trades. It was published in 1988, so a little outdated, but I was surprised how many things in the trades are still the same! Of course it talked about sexual and verbal harassment from co-workers/superiors/customers, but it also talked about the idea of women entering into a man's domain, how difficult it is mentally to traverse that path, and the excitement of possessing a useful skill.

Anyway, all this to say that I am reminded time again of the need for training women for entering in building trades. With the high drop out rates here in Buffalo, combined with the high rates of teen pregnancy, it just makes sense to give a young woman a skill which she can use to support her new family. (Of course it is equally important to engage young men and teach them skills as well, but that is not the topic of this post, nor of the book...)

If you're interested in reading this book, there is a copy of it in the library at Eaton St. that you can pick up any day of the week. Just stop by and ask!

Yours in hard-headed and hard-hattedness...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Newton's Law of Cooling and several heat equations later...

Thankfully I turned in my thesis on the concrete radiators this week! Can't say the experiment was totally successful. I discovered many flaw in the design and included may variations in my recommendations section for future trials. If you are interested in reading a 50 page science paper on heat equations, green retrofit, and what factors the successful heat output of a radiator are dependent on, email buffalobasics@gmail.com for a copy. With my thesis done, it is now just a week of finals before I graduate from college (long time coming).

Probably due to the constant questioning (what will you do after you graduate? Do you have a job lined up?) I have been thinking about how this project got started, where it progressed and where it will go in the future...

For that last one, I can say with perfect honesty that I don't know. What I do know are the following:
1. This project started out with an idea, a conversation over coffee. ...but it evolved into so much more! It became a connecting point for neighbors and friends. A place for people to meet other like-minded people, to share frustrations, and to learn from each other. I can say without a doubt that I learn more from people who stop by to visit than I could ever possibly hope to teach. This is inspiring to me since it demonstrates to me the power and potential of collective knowledge and reminds me everyday of the strengths that we all bring to the table. This project, though small, has made me think of continuing this collective energy somehow into a "bigger picture" project! With the same goals of connecting people, networking, self-empowerment through skills-building, etc. What exactly that project is, I cannot say, only that I need to think on it more...

2.The volunteer room will be decorated the minute I get home. So if you have ever donated money, donated knowledge, been to a workshop, donated your time, or--like my parents--volunteered your sanity, your homework is to sign your name on a broken piece of tile, a funny-shaped spindle, an old window, or anything reused! Even feel free to make some furniture out of recycled materials or write a long note (on recycled paper, of course)! Those items will be hung or placed in the volunteer room as a tribute to the many wonderful minds and caring hearts who have helped on the project. There's no real deadline on submitting something, though I would love it if you gave it to me before mid July.

3. The house, regardless if it is not constantly a center for workshops or does not host monthly parties in the future, will always have a door open for anyone willing or wanting to learn skills. So keep my email handy in case you have a question on repairs. Whatever you need to learn, we can figure out together.

As it stands, I will be returning to a summer full of workshops and get togethers. Maura and Matt will be out back baking, I'll be inside tinkering around, and you are always welcome to stop by and browse through our library, sip a cup of coffee/tea, and pick up a few home repair/gardening/baking tips along the way. All the events held at the house will be listed on the calendar at the top of this page, but also on the Buffalo ReUse website (under community calendar).

Signing off as a soon-to-be-graduate,

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

March update

So the radiators work, but are they hot enough? Depends what temperature they're run at. Unlike radiant floors, these babies need to be hotter in order to have a better heat output in a concentrated area. Question is...how hot does it need to be?

I have been able to keep the house at a steady 59 degrees. Not particularly comfortable, but certainly not freezing either. And that was only with 4 radiators in the entire house (compared to the original 7 on the first floor). I'm hoping that the additional radiators will keep the place toasty...but only time will tell. And unfortunately it's already March and I will not be able to accurately test them any longer! Perhaps next year...

In other news, Maura is back on the job with Matt for the earth oven and backyard garden! After a 6 month stint in Europe she is ready and raring to go! We have many plans for summer events (think free pizza and movie nights, coffee breaks, playing board games or twister)...you name it and we will try and host it! We want 153 Eaton to have a very low-key, inclusive atmosphere so please help make that possible (through volunteering, coming to events, donating, asking about bread baking, etc)! Also look out for future fundraising events. More updates to come soon...

Monday, February 22, 2010


The radiators are working! I connected a concrete radiator to the heating system and...eureka! Well, not really...it was hours of poking and prodding before I got the system up and running with no leaks, reliable pumps, correct connections, etc. but when I heard the system click on for the very first time it was a glorious moment. Unfortunately there was no one around to share this big victory with, but if you had been walking by you would have seen some crazy girl in carharts running back and forth through the house, jumping for joy. Probably a good thing you weren't walking by...ha!

I have yet to test the efficiency and compare it to the efficiency of a regular copper fin baseboard radiator...that is for this coming weekend. Any other ideas of what I can easily compare it to? (cast iron is out because the heated water that circulates through the radiator circulates through the domestic hot water system as well) I was thinking of an electric radiator perhaps?

As I was walking out the door last night though, the radiator was already up to 75 degrees F and rising! Next in line is experimenting with pigments and shape and textures and adding different aggregate. I'm also looking into different designs for spiraling the tubing as well as making a lighter concrete so that they are easier to move. The possibilities are truly endless! I only have limited space though...is anyone curious enough to have them installed in their own home and act as a second testing site?? Ha!

If you're interested in getting a tour of the house, how the heating system works, the avantages/disadvantages/costs. I will be in Buffalo again next weekend and can walk you through it.

Until next time,

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thesis work

In it for the long haul. My thesis is due in April, so I am traveling back and forth every weekend in February to finish testing, generating data. Stressful, but necessary. Plus, I get to enjoy the perks of Matt's bread baking!

This weekend (Feb 12-14th) I will be working non-stop on the thesis-specific parts of the project. Meaning, solar air collector and a concrete radiator. The week I left Buffalo (mid January), I had just finished the prototype for the concrete radiator. Now I am working on how to run hot water through it in a loop to test its efficiency. Any ideas? If you care to stop by and learn about either, I will be at the house quite often. Give me a call or shoot me an email if you're thinking of stopping by!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

(Re)Collection: Wasted in Buffalo

I presented on this project at school last Monday (2/1), a compilation of my work in Buffalo as well as the experimental work on turning found items (dumpsterdived in NYC) into functional furniture. My hope was that through talking about the house as well as talking about waste, I could start some inspiring conversations in and around campus...
Read below for a description of the presentation.

As you exit the elevators on the 17th floor, there is a big pile of junk. Yuck! On the wall, there is a sign with all kinds of negative words (waste, dilapidated, ugly, worthless, blight, etc). You are instructed to both take a bird hanging from the ceiling and pick out a piece of junk!

You take a bird representing the ever present seagulls around trash and unravel it to learn a fact about waste in Buffalo. Waste of resources, waste of housing (vacancy), waste of knowledge (drop out rates), etc. You read the label on the trash you just picked up and find out which NYC borough the item was found in! You need this for a later activity, so you keep it with you as you wander through the exhibit...

You continue past the entrance and arrive at a collection of photos. There are three sets of photos: waste/dilapidation in Buffalo (the before photos of the house), volunteers/progress, and into the future. You look more closely and realize that some of the photos with people in them have anecdotes attached, stories about volunteers, workshop attendees, and how they have each contributed to changing this idea of waste.

You enter a room and the presentation part begins. I briefly speak about the project and how it got started, but mostly about our perceptions of waste and how we can seek to change it. Then, the activity! I asked people to turn and introduce themselves and start talking about their piece of junk in front of them. Where did it come from? What was it originally? What could they use it for now? Could you combine it with anyone elses object at the table and make something neat?? Everyone gets into groups, not sure what to expect. A moment of silence...and then a burst of chattering. You can hear snippets from other tables...

"This looks like...a pipe. I suppose you could use it as a weapon?"
"No, it'd totally be an awesome cane!"

"Hmmm...an old piece of a coat rack?"
"Woah...definitely a future chandelier!"
"I was thinking we could combine this cool looking table leg with it and make a rustic/stylish new coat rack!"

You look down at your own object. You chose a piece of neon green Styrofoam that looks like a gigantic lego piece. Piece of styrofoam? Useless. Until wait, maybe you could use it as a stencil in the new bathroom design you are creating...someone else suggests simply reusing it for packaging/keeping another item safe in the mail...
Or, say you picked up an old wooden seat piece...hmmmm. You've always wanted a new cutting board...cut the seat down a bit, and voila! Also looks like a good sign...paint something on it and hang it in your room!

As people shared their ideas with each other they realized they are totally into this! They wanted to take items home with them and actually turn the ideas into reality. The audience reconvened for a minute as I wrap up, connecting the activity to a larger message. What you immediately labeled as waste when you first exited the elevators, now seems potentially valuable...you think about the people who are immediately written off as waste or worthless...perhaps its all in perceptions...

The presentation is over, but there's more to come! In the other room, there is an exhibit featuring many pieces of furniture that I made from trash. There are other activities to engage in too! You find the food table and...there is SO much food! Cinnamon raisin bread from Fancy and Delicious Baking Co, squash soup made from squash saved from the garden in Buffalo (actually, it's combination of farmer's market squash and squash from Kathy/Lar McNally's garden...shhhh), cheese/apples from the farmers market, fresh veggies, and a HUGE carrot cake made by a family friend! There is a canvas in the corner...there's a demonstration going on, about painting trim! It is an example of what I've been teaching at my house.

Anyway, that's pretty much the gist of the presentation. It was a wonderful and inspiring day, and there were so many great conversations that I'll probably never even know about! Until next time...


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Solar heat collector

Apparently the 3pm time was inconvenient for many people wanting to attend the solar heat collector workshop. I got many emails telling me to switch the time, so next time I know later is better. In any event, I built most of the solar heat collector in one day...and it looks great! Had to stop because I ran out of cans, so if you have a bunch of soda or beer cans (or would be willing to host a party to get some) let me know! Materials reused include an old storm window, empty cans and some odd pieces of wood lying around. Total cost will probably be about $20. If you're interested in getting directions for making your own or would like to reschedule a workshop...email buffalobasics@gmail.com

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Frozen pipes and frozen toes

It was in the negatives today with the windchill factor. Eek. I found myself shivering even with the battery powered self-heating socks and a few extra layers of long johns I threw on in the morning. Despite the cold cold cold weather though, inside the house the mood was warm and cheery! I smiled as I came through the door, hearing the sound of the gas heater going and hammers pounding. Several volunteers were busily working away, only stopping when I brought in my aunt's "very berry" pie and Micki brought in her award winning lasagna to share! We gobbled it up as though we were at Thanksgiving dinner and then got right back to work.

Working yesterday, Jason learned his fair share about drilling holes in 100 year old wood. Today Tex learned how to break out the rest of the corroded cast iron pipe/vent. More work is going on tomorrow and all week in fact (I'm working on building green innovations for my thesis, tiling the bathroom, etc), so if you'd like to learn...be sure to stop by!

Last bit of news: my pipes froze overnight...looks like I'll have to find a better method to keep them warm. Luckily, nothing exploding, so I didn't have water pouring in my basement...knock on wood! I'm working on finishing the insulation, so hopefully then it won't be a problem. In the meantime, I'm crossing my fingers and hoping it doesn't happen again. More updates to come, but if you're interested in green design/build, come to the workshop on the 13th at 3pm to learn all about offsetting your heating bills with DIY solar air collectors!