Artificial Turf – Hot or Not?


Here is a post from my guest, Lois Miller, Landscape Designer extraordinaire. 

It IS beautiful...

In my line of work as a Landscape Designer I get this question quite a lot lately.

Yes, Artificial Turf has improved a lot and it is the solution for very specific applications but on the whole I would say that artificial turf should not be used to replace the average lawn. 

Here is why:

–  Artificial turf is costly (3 times the cost of natural grass)

–  It is installed in the same manner as Interlocking Pavingstone which is laid on 6-8″ of base rock and sand compacted in place making it paving rather than “turf”

–   And lastly it is hot.

Seriously hot! Photo from U of Arkansas











(Here’s a link to an interesting article I found on the University of Arkansas website about using artificial turf for sports fields: ).

 These are the top 3 complaints from folks getting bids or installing these products. For me the problem is the fact that Artificial Turf is not an environmentally friendly product.  Carpeting the earth destroys the biomass and living organisms in the soil leaving not an ecosystem but an inert area. The picture below shows the Carbon and Nitrogen cycles, basically how the earth (soil) interacts with the Sun, air and living organisms to keep a balance in the atmosphere so that we can actually breathe.  Not to mention grow living things to feast on!

 (Basically, carpeting your yard renders it a wasteland…)

 (Artificial Turf does not break down organic matter like the microorganisms do in soil – yeah, this means what you think it does…bird poop, spit, food, and worse, sits on the turf – ewww… which can cause infection to those using it.)

 Planting areas i.e. natural lawn, ground covers or mulch also act as drainage fields around our homes catching and absorbing water before it runs off into the sewer and then down into the bay.  The dilution of the salinity of the bay over time changes the whole ecosystem of that area as well.  Artificial Turf does have very tiny holes that allow for percolation of water, however, as with any type of paving most of the water runs off the surface.

(New ordinances in many areas require that all water runoff be retained on the property, not allowed to drain to the street and the City sewer system, so you should consider that when installing artificial turf.  You’ll be required to make sure the water runoff goes into a drywell or landscaped area.)

Areas that I have used Artificial Turf that worked out quite well are poorly drained, dark and small spaces.  Most of these projects were for Townhomes or Condo areas where having a tiny lawn on a north facing site made a muddy pit incapable of growing normal turf. The clients in these cases had small children and needed a bit of play space for them. 

(Here is a YouTube video on how to install artificial turf )

Sport areas are normally also the first choice for Artificial Turf because it is even, does not wear down easily and can be fitted to the specifications of the sport and client.

Saving water is a needed and important aspect of our future but using Artificial Turf to replace your front lawn is not the solution. As time goes by and the product fades and becomes an icky color it will invariably be removed to be sent to the landfill with all the other un-recyclable products.

 Turn instead to a water-conserving garden that will enhance your home rather than detracting from it. Most of these landscapes act as an environment that is friendly to birds, butterflies and other wildlife while naturally percolating water down to the ground water.

From Lois' portfolio


...also by Lois








(If you decide to install artificial turf after all, check each brand and installer out carefully.  Seams can rupture, the carpet can stretch, tufts unravel and shed, UV rays can cause the plastic to break down.  Some products even have a high lead content!  A quality product and installation will help your artificial lawn last longer.)

For more info on Lois Miller, visit her website at  She does marvelous designs for huge budgets and tiny ones. 😉

...and another one by Lois


Don’t call me cheap! I prefer the word ‘thrifty’


Not a good example of reusing a door!

Clients who are remodeling or adding to their home frequently ask me what to do with their old doors, windows, flooring, etc, where they can be reused rather than tossed in the recycle dumpster. 

And…on the other hand sometimes clients are looking for a less expensive way to remodel and can use what someone else doesn’t need. 

Its not just old, outdated junk you’ll find, sometimes people buy the wrong thing and the store won’t allow a return or they bought too many of an item or they changed their minds…keep an open mind and you might save a bundle.  One’s man trash is another man’s treasure.

Here are a few I’ve discovered:

Craigslist:  They have ‘wanted’ and ‘for sale’ sections.   This definitely worked for us.  We had a bunch of gorgeous bamboo flooring left and sold it on Craigslist.  I posted pictures of the bamboo planking, the end of the box with the product data and a link to the store where we bought it.

Freecycle:  Its a site where you can post stuff you want to give away.  We used this site to give away oak desks and file cabinets. 

ReuseMarket:  I’ve never used them nor have I been to their store.  But, man, do they have a potload of stuff, and such variety!  From rakes to cars, clothing to windows and nails. 

If you are in Boise, ID, then this place takes donations!  Doors, windows, cabinets.  Be careful taking out the old stuff and they’ll take it off your hands.  Saves you the cost of taking it to the dump or recycling center (where we are charged by the cubic yard). 

Here’s a picture of the lumber from the garage we were thinking of having ‘deconstructed’ – it had beautiful redwood siding in great condition.  Alas, they wanted about $5k for the privilege. 

Just remnants of the garage are left...


This one is in Australia so it doesn’t help our clients but it has a good site.

Habitat for Humanity:   has something called a ‘Restore’ where they accept donated goods and where you might be able to find a fancy sink, cabinet, potty,  flooring, even paint and save some bucks.   They have stores all over the U.S. and Canada  For our clients, the closest one is in Oakland, CA.

I just searched for ‘second-hand construction material’ and found sites in different states.  Entered ‘used construction material’ and got different sites.  ‘Recycled construction materials’ would be another one to try.

Its worth looking into.  You might be surprised at what you find 😉

Who cares about water heaters?

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Professional bathers on closed course, do not try this at home.

While the subject of  water heaters isn’t sexy or dramatic and probably won’t give you an ‘aha’ moment, water heaters have a large role to play in the game of energy and water efficiency.

We’ve had a client (thanks, Bill) who forwarded a link to Consumer Reports and their review of tankless water heaters.  It was an interesting article and explained their pros and cons and how long it would take to recoup the expenditure of installing a tankless water heater.  It is very informative and if you are thinking of installing a tankless water heater, this will help you understand what to expect.  Here is the link:

Unfortunately, the idea of you recouping the cost of installing a tankless water heater isn’t something your city or the State of California much care about.  This is the year that many cities and counties begin requiring a base level of efficiency for residential projects over a certain size (the size depends on the rules in your city/county).  This means that each facet of the project must achieve a minimum level of efficiency, aka green points, in order to be approved.  has info on what ‘green building’ is all about.

Although ‘green building’  is a subject for another time, basically, a project receives points for doing specific things and there is a checklist that’s used covering things like:  deconstructing the building vs demolishing it, recycling materials rather than trashing them, crawlspace moisture control, water-efficient landscaping, using recycled materials in your project, water-efficient fixtures, energy-efficient appliances, diagnostic testing of HVAC system, low or Zero-VOC paint, type of cabinets used…and on…and on…some simple and some not so much.

Using a tankless water heater adds points to the green bottom line and, if you’re like me, you hate the amount of water than goes down the drain while you’re waiting for the hot water, not to mention how I hate being last to take a shower and running out of hot water…you’d think with a husband and two boys that it wouldn’t happen but it has! they're not mine...

A tankless water heater waits for you to turn on the hot water faucet, then it comes on and ‘flash heats’ the water.  It doesn’t continually heat water that sits in a big tank until you need it, like with an old-fashioned water heater.  The tankless water heater will keep heating the water passing through it until you turn the faucet off – imagine, virtually endless hot water! 

This becomes especially important if you have a big tub with bubbly jets.  I have a friend who said she could hardly ever use it because it was bigger than her water heater.  Bummer…

Switching over to tankless from regular isn’t for you unless you are already doing more than minor remodeling because you’ll be adding a gas line, manifold system and pex piping.  Water lines will be going directly to every faucet.

If I could add a tankless water heater right now, I would…we did add one to the spec house we did a couple years ago.  We didn’t have to, it was before Green Building had really taken off, but we knew it was an important piece of the reducing-our-carbon-footprint-puzzle, so we included it in the project.

Energy costs only go up and in California being water efficient is almost second nature – or it should be, although I still see people washing their cars in their driveways  and the water continually running from the hose.


 Bottom line:  If you are doing a remodel of the kitchen or bathroom, consider using a tankless water heater.  It might not save you a bunch of money in gas in the short term, but it will also reduce your water bill and let you use your fancy bubbly-jet bathtub with less guilt. 
More importantly, though, its better for the environment and, frankly, that’s good for all of us 😉

A tale of 3 tubs


He really, really wanted a bath!

In my lifetime, I have purchased 3 lovely iron claw foot tubs, for 3 different homes.  All of them, ALL of them, were via the internet. 

 Each time, I looked locally for an old tub from various antique places in the area and also looked at new reproduction tubs, iron and acrylic.

 Once, thinking I’d be uber-green and reuse the darn thing, I called a tub repair guy to see what it would cost to refurbish the tub that was in the bathroom of the 1906 Craftsman house that we bought and remodeled for our office/abode (and is now in my closet – yes, it’s a very big closet – we put a piece of plywood over it and a pretty tablecloth and it holds shelves for my sweaters.  Why, you ask, do I still have an old claw foot tub in my closet?  More on that in a bit.).

Anyway, the repair guy was kind of a pill.  He said that it would cost $1200 to refurbish the tub and that we had to do all the heavy lifting and turning of it so he could get to all sides.  Well, for that price, I got a lovely tub shipped to me from Pennsylvania!  And the sides were painted hunter green to match the accent in the mosaic floor tiles, so there!

Isn't that purdy?

So, why is this tub still in my house?  We tried to find someone to take it.  No antiques stores were interested and I finally found a salvage yard that would take it but they required that we pay the drivers for their time.  It’s on the second floor and harder than heck to get down the stairs!  And, anyway, getting it downstairs now means that we’d just be using it as a planter in the front yard. Which I thought would be fun, but my stick-in-the-mud hubby is more interested in appearances.  I wanted to put our HOMETEC Architecture sign in the tub, wouldn’t that be attractive?  No?  …well, whatever…

Not trailer-trashy at all!

Look at this metal tub used as a planter, it’s gorgeous.  If you want to do this yourself, here are the directions:

This could be lovely, in the right location.

And this one is not what you’d expect, either!   Maybe I could make this bathtub-as-planter idea work!   This one isn’t full-size, though.

This is a LITTLE tacky

The first claw foot tub I bought was the smallest tub they make, 5 feet.  Which was the pretty close to the exact size of the space it was going in – there was about ½” on each side as wiggle room.  We put the tub on a car jack and eased it into the space.  Easier said than done since the cabinets were already in place…probably not the best planning job we’ve ever done.  The poor plumber was on his back trying to get maneuver between the tub and the wainscoting we had on the wall, leaving him about 1/2” in which to work.  Looked fantastic, though – the tub, not the plumber 😉

 We bought the most recent tub from  I recommend buying the entire package, faucet and drain and all, so you don’t end up missing pieces.  They can help you decide what you need – with those cool circular shower curtain rods that hang from the ceiling, too.  FYI, you’ll need about 2.5 shower curtains to go around the rod, unless you buy one specially made for claw foot tubs.

 We also bought items from this company: 

Huge warehouse and lots of good sales, too!

Another fantastic place in our area to look for tubs is Tubz, in Fremont, CA.  They’ve have an incredible showroom filled with tubs you can actually get in and test (waterless, of course…and shoeless, I might add). 

Soaking tubs are popular, too.  You shower off first, then sit in the tub to soak.   Here are two cool pics of those:



Ahhh...tempting, isn't it...

And tubs can get very expensive!  This one at costs about $5,000!!!  You better be takin’ a LOT of baths – which reminds me…don’t forget to upgrade your water heater!  A friend of mine said that they couldn’t fill the tub all the way until they replaced the water heater to a larger size.  A tankless one might be the best thing for you.  It heats up the water on demand rather than continually heating up water that you aren’t even using.  Here’s a copy of one…the cheapest one on the Lowe’s website.  Prices ranged all the way up to about $1500.  You have lots of options depending on your usage needs.  And its so much more energy efficient than keeping a huge tank of water heated up all the time.  Win-win!  You get to be ‘green’ AND clean!

Here is a site with 6 uses for an old bathtub:

Any ideas of your own?  Send pictures!

Oh, don’t forget…please let a pro do the job!     😉

TP holder is...where?!??!?!?


The questions most on your mind…

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I know what with the holidays coming and all, the first thing on your brain are these kinds of questions: 

Air ducts exposed to the heat?!? Not very efficient...

Are my air ducts insulated? 

Is my attic? 

Should I replace my fridge?

nasty-looking fridge

...but they're saving energy!


What’s the big deal about fluorescent bulbs?

Sucks up electricity!

What kinds of ovens are most efficient?  Should I buy electric again or go  with gas?

Kneeds repare or replaysing

I need a new washing machine…what types are most efficient?

How can I become more ‘green’?   Where can I find out about energy rebates? 

Who can help me?  Where can I turn?

 In an effort to give you a leg up in your quest for energy efficiency, here are some websites that can help provide answers:

Energy Star   

Energy Star with info for small businesses 

U.S. Dept. of Energy Efficiency and Renewabl Energy   

Energy Savers Booklet you can dowload   

American Council for Energy Efficience with info, tips, lists of appliances and their efficiency data  

Database of State Initiatives for Renewables & Efficiency has a comprehensive listing of incentives, rebates, tax breaks and utility programs   

Build It Green:  What does it mean, how does it work?  Many cities are initiating green requirements for new homes, additions and remodel 

Would you like to take a more active role promoting ‘green’ in your community?   


And…if you hire a professional to do upgrades or installation, remember you get what you pay for 😉

Thanks again to for their awesomeness in documenting ‘fail’.

Let’s talk about potties


… potties…toilets…crappers…commodes

Note of interest:  Thomas Crapper might not have invented the toilet, but his plumbing company helped bring bathroom-type supplies out into the open – previously it wasn’t polite to discuss such a thing.  It seems that Mr. Crapper’s company was the first to open up a bathroom showroom on King’s Road, not a shabby side street, with an actual product sitting in the window right out in the open!  And Thomas Crapper invented some means of making potties more workable.

 It also seems that the name ‘Crapper’ is perfectly normal in England, only in America has it become a joke, thanks to WWI servicemen who saw the name.  However, there are Dutch, Latin and French versions of the word ‘crap’ meaning ‘refuse’, ‘siftings’, ‘to separate’, ‘chaff’…thanks to the venerable Wikipedia for that information.

 More on Mr. Crapper and available products here: 

So what kinds of water-saving potties are there?  Dual flush, composting, gray water and incinerator are those we will be explaining a bit more.

 High-efficiency means that they use less water than regular potties, sometimes by using less water with each flush (anyone here put a brick in the tank?  Or a gallon jug of water?)  and sometimes by giving you a choice as to how much water to use, as with ‘dual-flush’ potties.

Dual flush means that there are 2 buttons or 2 levers on the toilet tank; one when the need for water is low and the other when the need for an effective flush is high.  You’d think that would mean one for #1 and the other for #2.  But, not really.

 We bought 3 American Standard dual flush toilets a couple years ago to go in our spec project.  Each cost about $300 and used .8 gallons of water with a low-flow flush.  We discovered that one button was for when guys went #1 and the other was for everything else.  Either that or the low-flow button was getting pushed multiple times in order for any paper accompanying event #1 to be flushed.

I know there are dual-flush potties with a higher water per gallon value for the low-flow flush.  It’s not efficient when you have to keep pushing the button to get results.

Of course, there are kits to turn your existing potties into dual-flushers.  Don’t toss a perfectly good crapper.  This company has them for about $30.   But I haven’t tested them (nor am I getting a kick-back) so do your own homework

 Our local city water company is giving rebates for high efficiency toilets, clothes washers and landscape/irrigation upgrades, check with your local water provider to see what’s available in your area.

 Composting toilets are just what you’d expect except that you don’t necessarily have to shlep the stuff out to a pile, like with household compost. 

The potty is above a chamber that processes the waste.  Some are small, with the composting bin right below the potty, some require an area such as basement or large crawlspace beneath in order to easily access the composting chamber and some systems come with 4 bins on a carousel and by the time your using the 4th bin, the 1st one is completely finished.  You add a peat moss or straw layer to the bin to help with the composting process. 

 The EPA says that most disadvantages to these systems (smell, mess) come from improper maintenance, not a problem with the system itself.  The sites I perused said that the average tank could hold 80-100 ‘events’.

Still you must be careful because the finished compost product (humanure!) might be harmful – those pesky pathogens – so you shouldn’t use it on top of the soil in your garden, but you could bury it 12” underground and then it’s considered ‘safe’. 

stand-alone unit

An interesting sidenote:  The urine is already considered to be sterile, so it is separated from the solids (eewww) and sent to a different bin or a leachfield and it can be discarded wherever it’s legal to do so…hmmm…

 More info:  Nature’s Head toilets

 Incinerator Toilet is just like it sounds, using propane, diesel, natural gas or electricity, the waste is burned to a crisp, saving water but perhaps the smoke should be mitigated.  According to one website, it costs about $4000 to set up a propane-based incinerator toilet system.   It takes 10 minutes to incinerate  #1 and  #2 takes about a ½ hr.  The sterile ashes must be emptied every 3-6 months for a family of 4.

For more info:  but there other types.

 There are 2 types of gray water systems.  One is with water collected at the sink and sent to the potty and the other is at the potty itself.

The first one requires a tank in the cabinet below the sink which becomes the supply for the toilet tank.  The water is filtered and disinfected before it is pumped to the toilet tank and any overflow is sent to the sewer.  This site by Aqus had lots of info on the idea: 

 The other idea is a sink on the toilet tank lid itself, which then drains directly into the toilet tank.

But, why discard a perfectly good potty in order to save water?  shows how you can build a sink toilet tank lid yourself.   And has a toilet tank lid with a sink and faucet that you can buy for $99-119. has another product – AND it was featured on HGTV…oooh…

I think the concept is good, but awkward to use.  I can see this being more helpful in an RV or boat.

Gray water reclamation systems:   Check with your local city/county jurisdiction before trying to install a system at your house.  While anyone can use buckets, barrels and cisterns to collect rainwater, collecting gray water from dishwashers, sinks, tubs and clothing washers isn’t allowed everywhere.

 You may use gray water for landscaping but don’t spray directly on plants, run it below the surface – otherwise plants, dirt, rocks and groundcover will get a film on them, yeah, I know, yuck.    You’ll need to clean the filter every 3 weeks and add a chlorine tablet every 6, but they say that pool maintenance is more difficult than this.  Any overflow goes directly to the city sewer system (or your septic system leach field).   This site has more info on how the process works:

 Some time ago we talked with our local Department of Environmental Health about putting in a gray water reclamation system on a property we own in the foothills and they freaked!  We were at a meeting with a bunch of people from different departments at the County and we asked them about gray water systems and they practically turned white!  Started spouting all these worries and concerns.  We were, like, well, we’ll do it according to regulations and have it designed by a professional.  They were all sputter, sputter. 

 We were thinking that we’d do something environmentally helpful in a valley that promotes green, ecologically sound technology, but no.  We have to have a regular septic tank and leachfield…no composting or incinerator potties allowed!  Poohbah, no pun intended…  Well, we can’t afford to build that house of our dreams, yet, anyway.  Maybe by the time we can, our DEH will have been yanked into the 21st century.

hmmm, the family that expels waste together, stays together?

Hey, I got through that entire column without saying sh*t!  😉

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