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Building the cottage

"They did what? Are you freaking kidding me?"

Within seconds I had run back into our cottage to look at the damage.

On what I had come to call our feature wall, the first wall you see when you enter the living room, the contractor's trades had cut two large holes near the ceiling for the cold air return.

"Why the hell did you do that?" I asked.

"It's code", the 18 yr old trade apprentice said. "It's needed to recirculate the air in the house."

"But I don't want vents high up in my wall. It looks horrible."

"The only way you could not have the vents is if you had a ceiling fan."

"Seriously?" I said as I pointing to the ceiling fan above their heads.

This was just one of many run-ins we had with our contractor and his trades.

home construction cold air return cut outs
Wall with two sets of cold air return cut outs

As you have probably guessed, I am pretty picky when it comes to design. We had designed our new cottage from the ground up. It could not be prefab as it had to fit our very specific space and needs. After we had the drawings done we send out 5 or 6 RFPs to the local contractors. Only one got back to us. And he resisted us almost every step of the way.

And being newbies, we didn't know that we could push back.

We wanted a metal roof to collect rainwater properly. "Oh, we don't do that," he said. What that really meant was he didn't have a tradesperson for metal roofing in his contact list.

We want to use environmentally friendly ROXUL insulation. One day, we caught them putting pink fibreglass insulation in the ceiling and told them to change it. We just happened to be here to witness this. I have no idea what is behind the rest of our drywall.

And don't get me started on the first-floor room that is always 10 degrees colder than the rest of the house.

In 2003 it seemed like people were just beginning to think about green building choices. Most of the information I found online was happening in either Australia or surprisingly, Texas. Insulation made of denim scraps? Texas. Dual flush, low water toilets? Australia. It was a struggle all the way.

There was also the money. Any time I wanted to do something sustainably, it was going to cost me 3 times as much. We just didn't have the cash so painful compromises were made. I got my dual flush toilet but a metal roof still hasn't happened. It hasn't even been 20 years and the shingles are already disintegrating.

There are so many things we still want to do with our cottage. I have books and magazines stored away full of ideas like passive heating and net-zero houses. We have plans for solar panels, hopefully soon, and we are looking into if geothermal heating is the right way to go for the phase 2 addition.

In the meantime, we have a beautiful, comfortable house with tons of light. We only have about 1500sq ft of living space so our energy costs are not crazy but we do have a gas furnace. Call us "preppers" but we really like the idea of living easy on the earth. And the sooner we can get off dependency on fossil fuels the easier it will be for the planet to breathe.

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