Health & Safety


Plumbing – How Outside design affects your interiors

A relative’s recent experience with the twenty year old home she just moved into taught us a few facts worth sharing.  Water started appearing in her home along one side of her home.  Her floors are large marble tiles as she lives in Florida where they are common.  When water started seeping up in between the tiles when stepped on, she went on high alert and got a plumber in pronto.  After probing for a good long while, he found water standing under the house.  This eliminated the sprinkler system surrounding the exterior or a completely broken pipe that would have gushed.  A slow leaking hot water pipe was discovered behind the drywall in the office.  Once capped off, it stopped the leak but further work will have to find the other end of the pipe to finalize the repair and make sure there are no other contributing spots.

What we learned:  Hot water pipes are usually the first to go.  When a house is built the perimeter plumbing is put in around the foundation.  The trench it is laid into gets filled with construction trash.  This can set up an accident for the future.  Chunks of concrete, rocks, pipes and any trash with weight can easily bury a part of a hot water pipe.  Later with the expansion/contraction of heat from the water in the pipes and the extra weight resting on them, a perfect set up for a leak takes place.

Another interesting factor the plumber told us:  Trees can taste, smell and hear water.  Crazy right?  But even my houseplants have given me hints.  They can be like toddlers or puppies if not happy.  A tree will send out a root  from a large one as fine as a human hair to sniff out water.  A tiny porous spot in a pipe is all the entry they need.  On the other side of the pipe wall they once again develop into a large root and continue to grow and drink and eventually clog the whole system.  Old terra cotta pipes are the worst material for having this happen.

A byproduct of water leakage in homes is mold.  There are many forms of common molds not as toxic as the feared black mold and most homes have some of them lurking somewhere.  We all go running for the spray bleach when we see it but a curious thing about mold and bleach… it will kill the surface mold on contact but if some of the mold has not been touched as in concrete block and drywall AND the bleach killed mold has not been thoroughly cleaned up and wiped down, live mold spores ( like trees roots) will reach out to the dead mold and feed on it and the cycle continues.

Know your sewer line placement (or septic system design) and avoid planting trees that have water seeking roots worse than others.  Some of the worst offenders are silver maples, poplars, willows, American elm, white hawthorne, and bamboo.  Keep these at least 100′ away.  There are barriers that can be placed alongside water lines from chemical ones to strong wood and plastics, but they typically are not put there by builders.

A great book that goes along with this theme is one I am reading currently.  It’s A Garden of Marvels:  How We Discovered Plants Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants by Ruth Kassinger; 2014.  Lesson learned:  Beware where you plant your new trees, how they will interact with others and play nice with your home.

When is enough enough?

Beware -I feel a rant coming on…

My husband and I were having a discussion over morning coffee time today.  We started discussing the economy and technology.  He is a fourth generation in a line of engineers.  Although he loves designing ways to make things work better, whether it be carpentry, electrical or managing a business, he can’t see technology for technology’s sake.  I have to admit there is a fine line between technological innovations that better people’s lives and those that just give a false impression that because it’s new it must be a better way to go.  The philosophy that if it is moving the economy toward new heights we must be growing and growing is essential – right?  Which brings us back to the economy.  There was a New York Times article on October 28, 2012 about a man diagnosed with lung cancer and given six months to live.  He made the choice to go to Greece to die.  Now we all know Greece is a struggling country economically.  In the region he chose to live, the people live primitively by Western standards.  They eat very simply – home made bread, what they grow in their gardens, yogurt they make, beans and vegetables, occasionally meat.  They drink tea of mostly local herbs, goats’ milk and home made wine.  They work at what the local economy can support, visit each other a good portion of the day, nap in the afternoon, dance and sing with friends at night – and yes get plenty of sun every day.  The area has a large portion of its population that lives to be over 100.  Our man with the cancer opted for no chemotherapy, hospitals, hospices or gravestone.  Actually he didn’t make funeral arrangements because he passed his 6 month time period and just kept living.  He lived where the economy was not “growing”.   Did he rob the economy of what it could have made from the medical  and funeral costs. Did he cheat the lawyer  out of fees, the city and county out of taxes, the real estate agent to pass on or sell his house and “things”?  An automobile industry wouldn’t have flourished because of him, as he opted for no car.  He lived simply and happily without disease.

So how much is enough.  What is evident among the present youngest generation is how technologically savvy they are by the time they are toddlers.  Give them a cell phone or tv remote and they figure it out pretty rapidly.  Give them tools and wood, can they build?  Can they figure out what food is good for them and not be hooked on refined food based on starches and sugars? Can they carry on a conversation without having another conversation (or two) going on in the palm of their hand with a cell phone?  Ok I’m ranting (I can because I have 8 grandchildren and my youngest child is under 30…)

So my  current list of technology pros and cons is as follows


Sherwin Williams’ new release:   Harmony Paint Shield Microbicidal Paint;  It kills 99.9% of Staph E.coli, Enterobacter aerogenes, MRSA. and VRE within two hours of contact with the paint and lasts up to four years – positively contributing to safety in hospitals and doctor’s offices – which I personally avoid as much as possible…

Technology in public restrooms where you wave your hand or simply move to turn on water, dispense paper towels  or flush a toilet – again contributing to health by not sharing others germs.  (I personally loved the toilet seat technology in Germany where the seat rotates under a sanitizing area in the back of the seat…).

Cell phone technology.  I am not a fan of both kids and adults keeping half their brain in a phone and not being fully present.  ( I often feel that the focusing on a phone so much is saying :  “this other life I have in here is so much better than being in the present with you..” while it is actually being used to distance and keep others at arms length and not have to converse and engage).   But I love the ability to not only take great photos anywhere, but have apps that can edit the photos without using a computer and booting up a program. Having navigation and communicating it to a Blue Tooth connection in your car or using Siri when you have a question is wonderful.  Listening to a book or music, taking notes, banking and researching on a phone – all fabulous!   Land lines are passe’ for the most part and never were able to do even a smidgen of which a cell phone is capable.

Laser surgery in well trained hands is so much less invasive than procedures of the past.  Sutures than dissolve and don’t involve removal and more healing.

Battery operated tools are great for jobs that don’t require a lot of power behind them.  Their lighter weight enables consumers not able to lift and work with the larger commercial varieties to get most jobs done.  But nothing beats a tool that uses the power of a compressor when more force is required to drive more pounds per square inch into a roof or studs for walls or staples for upholstery.

New technology in the fabric industry is changing the market.  When Sunbrella introducied solution dyed acrylic fabric as a panacea to upholstery and drapery finally resisting fading and rot, they gave us a great gift.  I feel it led to the trend of beautiful outdoor living spaces included in home planning today.  Furniture can now be exposed to sun in our indoor rooms and not fade and need recovery in a couple years.  Digital printing and designing your own fabrics easily because of companies like Spoonflower has made it easy for consumers to order wallcoverings, fabrics in various weights and gift wrap from the touch of their computers.


Video games that train our children to kill other humans and animals.  Yes they are animated but the degree of high tech that is put into these games is astonishing.  Conversely, what are we putting into our children’s minds?

Using technology to develop ways to grow our food supply faster and cheaper without the worry about insects and weeds.  Sounds good on the surface.  But what are the consequences in the long run to our environment, the balance of nature and our health.  I personally don’t want to consume weed and insect poison into my body, or put extra chemical hormones into our children when during their pre and teen years  they have enough trouble keeping their own levels in check.

Using non domestic technology has created many pros and cons.  Nationally it has drained job opportunities in this country and taken away our dominance in world trade. We exported technology that didn’t exist in other countries in order to build goods that we could have built ourselves to -our detriment.  When you have language and method coupled with faulty translation, distance barriers in managing product quality and foreign chemicals banned in this country being used, and no honoring of patents, how is that a win win?  Woods used in furniture have a centuries long history of coming from subtropical climates.  As long as the drying and processing is given time it can be great.  Pushing furniture through without proper assimilation for new climates results in split cabinetry and weakened chairs. Paint and glazes, fabric coatings and products that give off indetectible gasses can easily be adapted into products from other countries that wouldn’t escape detection as easily if manufactured here.  Post 911 scrutiny of terrorists entering the country took diligence away from the goods and containers being imported.  As a result we are now plagued with insect species running rampant that have no natural enemies.  They have decimated trees and crops costing billions of dollars.  They spray for them and our own beneficial species are killed in addition and our food supply is compromised and costs us more.  The trickle down effect of sending our manufacturing overseas is mind blowing.

The danger of technology is having so much technology that you don’t think about what you’re doing or what you would do without it.  Becoming so dependent that it removes the ability to know how to live without should be a red flag that we had better educate ourselves about our tools, techniques, environment and ourselves. Using technology that so speeds up our life that we have no patience for conversation, fixing a problem, relating to how another may be feeling, grocery lines, traffic jams or looking up at the sky, trees and flowers from your phone while walking your dog  (sorry – one of my pet peeves…).

One of the best quotes I read lately is from Mark Twain.  It applies here.

Good Judgement is based on Experience. Where do you get the experience?     from making bad judgements.



what’s with barns being painted red?

red barn

Driving through various parts of the American pastoral countryside, it is common to see an old barn in various stages of decay still sporting signs of bright red covering. Why red? Did farmers get together at some point and decide against green – or white?

Actually farmers had knowledge passed on down through the generations that taught them practical skills of surviving the land and the elements as well as the best ways to raise animals and preserve food. And they did it with skill and economy!

The barn was as important to the farmer as their home. It was their workshop, repair central, housed their livelihood, equipment and food for their livestock. To have it in disrepair was to foretell a farm in decline. One thing a farm usually had plenty of was some rusting equipment or dirt with iron oxide pigment. When mixed with the calcium carbonate of lime, linseed oil (a derivative of flax seeds) and skim milk, the linseed oil preserved the wood and turned the paint a tawny color while the iron oxide was anti-fungal and protected the wood from molds that would break it down. But the most notable addition of iron oxide (rust) was it turned the paint into a long lasting red color. The deep saturated color also aided in capturing the heat of the sun, keeping it warm inside.

Swedish red

Sweden has it own particular color of red for its barns. It was named Falun red from the town that had poisoned the landscape with its copper mines in the Great Copper Mountain since 850 A.D. but closed in 1992. The company is still in operation in other areas of the world. The mine left mineral heaps as copper was separated from the soil. The connection to red paint comes from the hematite or reddish iron ocher. It was further discovered that it prevented wood from rotting. What more could you ask. It was mixed with linseed oil, rye flour and water and became the famous paint color throughout Sweden. The downside was it was cheap and therefore looked down upon by the more well off gentry who had to show they had money by painting their houses white or yellow.

sweet limewhitewashed barn

Dairy farmers knew that using whitewash on the interior walls of their barn was cheap and easy to make and had excellent benefits. It is based again on lime. However, lime comes in various forms. Hydrated lime or mason’s lime is calcium hydroxide – the kind to use in paint. Calcium hydroxide is the product of burning crushed limestone (which is calcium carbonate) in kilns. Carbon dioxide is released into the air, leaving a volatile calcium oxide – commonly know as quick lime which can be used to dispose of dead bodies. When calcium oxide is combined with water it changes to slaked or calcium hydroxide. It was sometimes mixed with a hide glue, flour, animal hair, milk or occasionally pigs blood. Just lime and water was enough to coat walls and provide an antibacterial antiseptic coating especially needed to clean up dairy walls and chicken coops while not harming the animals. Dolomite lime or garden lime is made from crushed limestone (calcium carbonate or chalk).  A tutorial for whitewash can be found here.

So for the decades and millions of dollars getting lead out of paint and lowering the VOC’s (volatile off-gassing compounds) to 0%., maybe our forefathers were on the right track in the first place.

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