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Green dreams, or how to fulfill your life’s ambition while saving money and the planet

Green homes. Environmentally-conscious living. LEED-certified abodes. Hobbit holes.

I value these things. I like to read up on these things. I aspire to these things, or at least some of them. (The hobbit hole? ┬áThat’s more Dave. I’m not sure I’m green enough to want to live, erm, underground. Even if the dwellings are kinda adorable.)

Hobbit hole: Photo courtesy of the fabulous Simon Dale blog

Then we went and bought an eighty-year-old house.

Even better, we went and bought an eighty-year-old house literally three days after the federal government’s sustainability rebate credit thingy closed.

Boo. Hiss.

There is little so green – especially from an energy perspective – as an eighty-year-old-house in a climate given to long winters. Especially in February.

Luckily, the house itself gave us clear notice of its miserable state of inefficiency with days of our arrival: the kitchen ceiling began to weep.

Yeh, I know that’s usually bad. Like, “scene from Poltergeist” bad. If the walls had started weeping blood, be assured, we’d have totally hightailed it outta here.

Instead we ended up reading up on ice dams.

Turns out, these climates given to long winters are going through more freeze and thaw cycles in recent years. Turns out, shingles and roofs aren’t made to handle that kind of melt, and ice backs up under shingles and starts leaking through into, oh, say, kitchens. Turns out our attic crawl space was so badly insulated it was about fifteen degrees Celsius up there, on a February night. Turns out that in a story-and-a-half house, that means all the snow melts off the top, slips halfway down the house until it hits the uninsulated spaces off the sides of the bedrooms, where the slopy ceilings come down to meet what are known as the kneewalls.

Knee Wall: Diagram courtesy of Natural Resources Canada. Our handy dandy government at work.

Then it freezes, and all hells breaks loose at the edges of the roof.


Now I know why we burned oil like a Hummer in the first few drafty days we were here.

When I received the news that in order to rectify the dripping pot light over our sink – which was not, contrary to my hopes, helping with the dishes – we’d have to bust a hole into our newly painted bedroom wall, I did what any sane person would do.

I began to weep harder than the ceiling.

Dave, however, was less daunted.

Turns out, in addition to dreaming of living in a hobbit hole, Dave has – like, forEVER – aspired to having something like a grownup’s secret hideaway: a space in the house where he can, effectively, disappear. Like a man cave, perhaps, but without a door. A space, so to speak, not on the maps.

And so it transpired that yesterday I came upon this spectacle in the upstairs of my house, right under the little hole that leads to the attic.

That’s Dave, in his fetching insulation outfit. We may save it for Hallowe’en and he can go as a giant condom. Up on the ladder, just out of view, is his dad. Or rather, his dad’s legs.

They blew a boatload of insulation into the floor of our attic to stop the hot air going up and out and heating the outside.

They then cut a hole out of our (freshly painted) bedroom wall so as to access the crawl space behind. It was kind of unspeakable in there, by my standards, but they dried things out and added to the insulation and cleaned and tidied it up real nice, and Dave even varnished the floor.

Then they plugged up the hole with a rather elegant hand-made built-in which totally fits the Arts & Crafts style of the house. Like so.

Take that, ice dams!

(Okay, well, we’ll still have ice until spring, but it’s old ice, we think: no more damming should occur with the new insulation in both the attic and behind the knee wall. And we can pull the cabinet out any time and check and dry things out so as to avoid any further melt leaking around the newly-repainted kitchen ceiling (thanks, Dave’s mom!)

And we’ll save money and energy in the interim. Even in an eighty-year-old house.)

AND behind that cabinet, in fulfillment of his lifelong dream, Dave can, uh, disappear at will.

Don’t tell anybody. It’ll ruin his fun.


Twitter: @bonstewart Life blog: Theory blog:

5 Responses to “Green dreams, or how to fulfill your life’s ambition while saving money and the planet”


We’re having the same problems with our 22 yr-old house, Bonnie. Luckily the water is landing on our nicely tiled bathroom floor, so the damage is minimized. I’m told that in addition to cutting out a crawl space and adding insulation, installing a rubber membrane under the shingles & placing heat tape on the problem areas should remove the problem entirely. We have a very shallow pitch to our roof so our problems will get worse when the winters do. Good ole Canadian winters.


Theresa Cormier

Hi Bon, I enjoyed reading about the house and seeing the new bookshelf, your house is so beautiful, we love it. I know your lovely family will be happy living in your house whatever little mishaps may come from time to time. It was great visiting and anxiously waiting to hear your unpacking the last box,, take care!!



We’re very happy here…and sort of enjoying getting to know the place, even with the drippage. You guys are welcome guests anytime. Thanks again for painting the ceiling and the kitchen, Theresa!



I LOVE it. Gonna make my non-handy husband make me a cute little removable built in bookshelf. Fabulous.



Heat tape, Esther…advice has been passed along to the handyperson. Thanks, and happy, uh, dripping!

Kimberly, I’d offer the plans but I don’t think Dave used any. I painted it! (Okay, my actually handy MIL painted it, but I did the second coat!)


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