Folsom's Rainbow Bridge

Folsom's Rainbow Bridge
Rainbow Bridge crossing the American River in Folsom, CA

Saturday, December 18, 2010

December brings permits and rain

Hello and welcome back to Local Fruit.

Our new house project has finally cleared the most frustrating hurdle which was obtaining permits from the City of Folsom. After three rounds of comments from City staff, plans being resubmitted with comments, and four long months waiting, we finally have permits! Whoohoo! Of course it is now mid-December and we are in the middle of the wettest rainy season in years.

Had the permits been available two months ago, we would have a foundation by now and maybe enough of a roof to allow work to proceed through the winter. Now the soil will be too saturated to safely allow the heavy equipment access to trench for the foundation and pour cement. I am not complaining, though, because waiting for weather is much more tolerable than waiting for the City to release permits. The City staff is trying to manage their workload in the face of budget cuts, reduced staffing levels and furlough days, all of which impact their ability to turn around projects in a timely manner. Even though I have been frustrated by the City, I am thankful to live in California where construction occurs year-round.

On the bright side, our builder (Gai Kirkegaard Construction) has done as much work as possible prior to obtaining permits: the utility trenches are complete, the temporary electricity is set up and the grading is mostly complete. He even installed an empty conduit for our internet cable utility before filling the last trench and the rains started. The subcontractors are lined up and the administrative tasks of completing contracts and getting their insurance are well underway. Although we can not physically proceed due to weather, work has been scheduled and materials are being ordered for our home.

The forecast for the next ten days calls for rain, but that is okay. After all, Christmas is next week and I don’t expect much to happen during the holidays. I had hoped to hang a wreath on a house under construction and to take Wassail (a hot cider drink) to the workers this week; I will just make Wassail next month instead to take to the workers when they start digging and hammering in cold weather.

We are pleased to have permits and to be ready to really get building in January. Meanwhile, it is Christmas in Folsom and we are a little cheerier than a week ago! We are healthy, our local high school just won the state football championship, and we will see family in San Jose and at the Oakland Zoo next week. (My sister works with giraffes at the zoo, and we will go visit her at work.  I do not have a family member living in the zoo that I am aware of at this time...)

Thank you for following Local Fruit and I hope to show you more about our project in 2011.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Waiting for the Permit

We are still waiting for the permit...

Our project is in that anxious phase between submitting to the City and receiving a permit to build.  This is a very frustrating phase because there is so little feedback to us as owners of the project.  We submitted to the City in October, and hoped to have a permit in hand in November and be able to start construction.  Our wonderful builder, Gai Kirkegaard, is as eager to proceed as we are; he is equally frustrated with the City of Folsom and the on-going challenges that are put before us.  We really do want to build a house, and we really do want to pay a boatload of fees to the City.  It is reasonable to think that the City staff would be supportive and receptive to our small project as we are putting people to work and generating much needed fee revenue for the City.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.  This phase of a construction project is not supposed to take long, unless your project is in wholesome Folsom! Today is December 2, 2010;  With any luck we will have a permit by Christmas and we will wait for the rains to subside so that the subcontractors can start our foundation.  The pressure will be on to finish by 7/1 so we can move out of the rental an into our home. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bath Tubs and Chinese Granite

Hello and welcome back to Local Fruit.

One of the fun things about designing and building or remodeling a home is choosing stuff. Every single item and surface requires decisions: what style, what materials to use and of course, what colors do we want in each room? These basic decisions are based on individual preference, budget, or sometimes future plans. In our project, the priorities are budget, energy efficiency, sustainability, and high indoor air quality – low VOC’s.

One thing I really enjoy in the winter is a good hot bath. In the new house I planned a claw foot tub, and budgeted accordingly. We adjusted our fixture selections in other areas in order to afford a claw foot tub. After moving to Folsom many years ago, I fell in love with a store called Mac the Antique Plumber and have returned over the years to look at tubs, climb in a few, and plan the next tub. (I said I really like baths!) Recently when talking with a friend about tubs, she mentioned that she no longer wanted her old claw foot tub and that it was available in exchange for the cost of moving it downstairs.

Mac the Antique Plumber both sells and refinishes tubs, so I compared the cost of moving and refinishing an older tub with the cost of a new tub of the same size. The new cast iron tubs are now made in China and shipped worldwide. I was amazed to learn that it would cost almost as much to follow my conscience and do the right thing for the environment-reuse an existing tub- as to buy a new tub. The total cost difference between the new tub and a refinished tub is only about $150, before sales tax.

It is incredible that the refinishing cost (mostly labor) is about equal to the cost of a new Chinese tub including freight charges. On Craigslist I found a few tubs for sale that when purchased, moved and refinished would match the cost of a new tub. My friend decided to keep her tub, and now the hunt is on to find a local tub in good condition. Although I would prefer to buy American, or at least support local labor, I don’t know if we can justify paying more to do so. Globalization and offshore labor has a significant affect the economics of building our little home.

My husband and I have also enjoyed looking at solid surfaces for the kitchen. We both really like soapstone, but the cost is probably beyond our budget. We frequently visit stores and warehouses that have granite slabs and have fun looking at beautiful stone slabs in the warehouses. In researching granite and air quality, I learned that some of the granite sold in the US emits radon. I also learned that China is one of the world’s largest producers of granite slabs and has a rating system to classify the emissions from Granite. Many other nations rate granite emissions and control the uses of different granite as interior building materials.

The Solid Surface Alliance website states:
“Radiation will vary in different granite materials, so much so that the Chinese enacted radiation standards years ago and actually prohibit the export of the safer, lower radiation level granite. Think about that, any Chinese granite imported into the United States or elsewhere is considered too dangerous to be put in a Chinese dwelling. The health risks from granite radiation are small yet not as small as other health risks. For instance, the granite in the Thomas Jefferson building in Washington D.C., will give you an incremental cancer risk 50 times greater than the Super Fund clean up trigger levels.”
Food for thought? Absolutely. If a home has granite counter that emit radon, synthetic vinyl flooring and a gas range, the indoor air quality may be unhealthy; even more so if the home has an attached garage. On January 12, 2010 the California Building Standards Commission unanimously adopted the Green Building Standards (CALGREEN) which will further reduce construction materials emissions and improve ventilation and filtration in all residential and commercial construction.

We are trying to stick to our priorities of budget, durability, and air quality to guide us in this decision. I honestly have no idea where we will get a tub or what counter surfaces we will finally choose. The adventure of learning about this stuff is half the fun, and I am about to resume hunting for a tub. Do you know anyone with an extra iron tub?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fresh Dirt!

Hello and welcome back to Local Fruit. I am happy to say that we finally have something to show that the project is moving forward at last. It has been almost three years since we bought the lot and began designing an energy efficient house in the Historic District. We submitted the design to the City and the Historic District Commission fourteen months ago and then submitted drawings for the plan check phase again in August. Once we moved into temporary quarters this summer we have been eagerly waiting to see tangible changes at the lot.

So back to the week’s progress... the site work of grading and sewer is complete. Future site work include constructing utilities and retaining walls.

A week ago several issues lay before us: locating the City sewer line and getting the grade correct on a narrow sloping lot. Well, last week the excavation company graded the lot and dug the sewer trench. After locating the City sewer main, they constructed our sewer connection, had it inspected, filled in the trench and patched the street. This seemed to happen quickly and with minimal disruption to the neighborhood traffic. The lesson here is that with something as important as a sewer line you want to have the ground work done right the first time. There is no second chance with a sewer line.

The grading has been a challenge because the lot slopes about 10’ from the southeast corner to the northwest corner. The garage pad is the high point, and right now the pad really dominates the parcel. We plan to reduce the excess pad and return the slope to almost the natural grade. I can’t imagine trying to navigate around the high pad as pictured with garden equipment or a green yard waste can.

Another challenge has been getting two City-owned trees removed. Two years ago the City arborist spent time identifying the trees and informing me which City-owned trees were diseased and unsafe. In fact he said that that the City would remove two of the trees because they were a hazard to people and property; however, due to the budget crisis the City now has no staff to trim or remove trees.
Instead the arborist expected us to remove the two City trees. This work was NOT in the budget! We agreed to remove the City’s trees because we did not want the risk of a diseased tree with a weak crotch dropping a limb and hurting someone. (That phrase always makes me want to giggle- pants have weak crotches; trees should be strong!) The photo shows the stump of the maple tree cut down today. I don’t even know how it survived this long with so much of the trunk missing.

The past few months we have been doing fun stuff on Fridays, like picking out flooring, cabinetry, and solid surfaces. We evaluated window bids (Anderson vs Milgard) and began to evaluate HVAC systems. We often take time to pull out the plastic yard chairs and sit on the future porch or in the future dining room…just looking at the future view.

We expect to break ground about the same time and the rainy season arrives. But I have cute new mud boots, and I am ready!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fresh Dirt: Pre-Construction in Old Town

Welcome back to Local Fruit. Those of you who know us understand that our family has been on the move this summer. We sold our home in July and look forward to a change in lifestyle. Having lived in Folsom for twenty-two years, we like the nearby Historic District and often just walk the neighborhood to enjoy the eclectic architecture and local color. One of the great things about a historic district is the character of the area; another is the diversity of the people living in the area. The Folsom Historic district is no exception.

In November 2007 we found one of the few vacant parcels in the Historic District. The lot is narrow, only 50’ wide, which was the standard back in the 1850’s when land in the area was first being mapped and divided. Because of the close proximity to the river, gold miners in the area created a settlement that eventually became the town of Folsom. Our particular parcel was once agricultural and owned by Portuguese farmers who provided fruit to the young town. It still has fig trees, persimmons, citrus, pecans, and walnuts. Nearby are many olive trees and grapes that grow along the road.

Not only is the location of this parcel attractive due to the proximity to the river, restaurants, parks, city library, and light rail, but the soil itself is attractive to the gardener in me. There is an orange tree on the lot that had been damaged and neglected by the previous owner. I trimmed and cared for the tree for several years to bring it back. The generous neighbors have helped me water the tree (there is no water to the lot), and now it has its first crop of fruit in the past three years. Once on an early spring day, I was watering the tree and I noticed a sparkle in the soil. After looking closer, I could see small flecks of minerals in the rich soil that sparkled in the late afternoon sunlight. From that space standing by the tree, I could see the arches of the Bridge crossing Lake Natoma through the trees. I thought I even saw the sparkle of water reflecting from under the bridge. How cool would it be to build a two-story home near the river parkway and actually be able to see the bridge and water?

So for the past two and a half years we have owned this narrow lot with the idea of building a home. Using home design software, the home took shape on my computer and we located a builder who built an energy efficient (LEED Platinum) home in the Folsom Historic District. The builder is a really good guy, and he walks and talks efficient ratings; he also learned the idiosyncrasies of building in the Folsom Historic District.

The main goal of this project was to create an energy efficient home that significantly reduces ongoing expenses while also doing our part to enhance environmental sustainability. Other benefits include the lifestyle perks of being closer to the river and within walking distance of all that the community has to offer. Both my husband and I are energy geeks; we want a home that is energy neutral. The home design includes serious insulation, photovoltaic solar panels, and very efficient appliances. The detached garage includes a granny flat that could generate enough income to pay for property taxes if we ever decided to rent it out. We have eliminated pool maintenance, landscaper service, and even the window cleaning service. Yes window cleaning; the old home had great views from three stories up and neither of us are too keen to do ladder work.

The project is finally on the verge of become a reality. The orange tree will be fenced off this week to protect it during grading, as will a fig tree. Yesterday I trimmed the fig in order to reduce its drip line in an attempt to save it during construction. Several orchard trees (fig, persimmon and cypress) will come down to make way for our new home. Although I feel guilty about taking down a few trees, I am eager to see dirt and plan the garden beds for next summer.

We may be about the only crazy people to actually start a new construction project in this economy. It may be self serving, but if we can stimulate our local economy and help put people to work, why not do so? Assuming we break ground in September, the house should be ready in April, in time to prepare for a summer garden. Both building a home and the prospect of finally working the rich soil are exciting to me!

I will be sharing our experiences and photos of the progress over the next year. You may learn about green construction, energy, or the local color of our diverse and eclectic old town.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Dont Spill the Juice! Electricity

Welcome back to Local Fruit. The past few weeks have been very busy as we moved from a large house to a rental in Folsom and finalized our plans to start a new project. This week’s blog is gives a foundation as to why we are the only crazy people we know starting a new construction project during a rotten economy. More about that exciting project later; this week I am writing about the main reason we made the move from a beautiful suburban home to a small rented home during construction.

My wonderful husband, Rich, and I are committed to maintaining the balance between living well and living light: our main objective is to lower utility expenses while improving the quality of our home and hopefully reducing our toll on the environment in the process.

Let me explain that I'm a bit of an energy geek and for years I charted our energy usage by the dollar, the kilowatt (electricity) and the therm (gas). Even with seasonal changes in electricity and natural gas, the chart made it easy to understand the effect on gas and electricity usage when common events occur such as a teenage daughter going away to college or replacing the washer/dryer with very efficient models. Charting the usage even makes paying the bill somehow easier because we were activly managing our usage. A warning to nerds: charting utilities is often usually done by commercial property managers and can be addictive for homeowners :) .

Our electric utility is Sacramento Metropolitan Utility District (SMUD) and the bulk of their electricity comes from hydroelectric sources, meaning mountain snow pack runoff. In years of drought, we can expect up to 13% electricity inflation which makes it difficult to obtain any dollar savings.

Our electric utility is better than most for three reasons:
1. SMUD is ranked 4th in renewable energy sales on US utilities
2. SMUD is a municipal utility, so they are not profit driven for the benefit of stockholders.
3. SMUD’s rates are significantly lower than PG&E's rates in nearby communities

Our goal is to reduce electrical usage (kilowatt hours / day) and we were able to do so every year from 2006-2009. The point is that although you can reduce your energy usage and have a fairly good electric company, other events can and will affect your utility bills. Our region endured a record breaking heat wave in 2006 and drought from 2006-2010; both of which affected the electric company’s ability to produce and purchase electricity. In turn, the utility passed higher rates on to the ratepayers. Even though we were doing the right things to lower usage and we reduced our usage by 25%, our year-round efforts only saved us about $600/year.

So where do we go next? We sold our beautiful home and packed up the dog, moving to temproary quarters while we build a really cool home that is energy efficient, charming, and located in a desirable area. We submitted our plans to the City yesterday and paid the first in a series of killer fees. The good neighbors on the old historic street will endure our construction noise, dust and mess for 6-8 months; with good fortune we will be able to break ground in 4-5 weeks and finish construction in April. The image on the left is the idea house..cute yes?

Local Fruit welcomes you to share our journey-the people, the triumphs, and frustrations, and of course the really cool things we are planning to include in the home if the budget allows. I am a geek about energy and can't wait to share the progress of this project.

There is a lot of information on the web about what you can do to lower your utility consumption, and plenty of info available about utility companies. For information on the top utilities offering renewable energy, go to .

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Local Fruit

Hello and welcome to Local Fruit. I am new to the blogosphere, but plan to put up new info at least weekly. Although my blog is not about fruit, there will be fruit featured from time to time as I am a gardener and I promote local farms. Rather Local Fruit is about the benefits of planning, hard work and a healthy community.

Our family is food centered. Almost everything in the family revolves around food. We appreciate eating out of the garden, and support a local farm to get a box of organic produce each week. The kids grew up with fresh lemons, tomatoes and plenty of herbs; now that they are in college they proudly send cell phone pictures of tomatoes, peppers and rosemary that they grow for their own kitchen. We care about what we eat, and try to be aware of where our food is grown. We eat what is in season, and try to avoid out of season imported produce. We live in Northern California, so we are blessed with an abundance of local fresh food year-round.

After a few years of trying to eat healthy food, it was a natural and logical evolution of our consciousness to become aware of the impacts of our food choices. Partly because I had to defend spending a little more for organic or local produce, I became interested in how we can make small changes that add up to a measurable difference. I admit spending more on quality fruits and vegetables, but our family also spends less on meat and poultry than we did a few years ago. After all, it’s all about the food; with food and wine higher quality ingredients make for a better meal, and better meals make for a happier and healthier family.

Another reason to name my blog Local Fruit is that the local community is a source of social connection which is vital to healthy living. When we moved to Folsom, CA many years ago, we fell in love with the historic district and the eclectic, charming homes in the oldest part of town. After about twenty years of liking the area, we realized that we would be happy retiring in Folsom and we started looking at homes. In fall of 2007, we found a small lot for sale in the historic district (originally created in 1855) and started planning how to design and build a very efficient home that would be appropriate for a 50’ wide parcel in a historic district. As the housing market crumbled, we are embarked on a journey to sell our beautiful home in suburbia and build a charming and environmentally friendly home in the colorful historic district of Folsom, near bike trails, water sports, and urban renewal and light rail.

Given the history of the parcel-it was once part of a farm-the soil and trees were valuable to us. This small lot has fruit trees: an orange tree, three persimmon trees and two fig trees. It also contains two young pecan trees and a mature walnut tree. In addition, there is a massive Italian Stone Pine tree along the street of the house next door. Italian Stone Pine trees are the source of pine nuts, the expensive ingredient in pesto and a staple in Italian cooking. The squirrels knock the cones to the ground, wait for cars to drive over the cones, then the squirrels raid the cones and feast on creamy pine nuts. I once sat outside with a hammer and worked hard for pine nuts (they were so sweet!) only to see squirrels use gravity and autos to accomplish the same thing.

Local Fruit may from time to time refer to people, trees, gardening, rewards, and just plain good living. I hope to document our progress as we move forward on this journey to build our home, build a garden, and enjoy the community I have come to love. Forgive me if you happen to be a neighbor and I err on the facts; this blog is meant to share our journey with friends and family who are not able to be a part of the experience first hand.