Category Archives: transition to eco-plex

And how’d the rest of the summer go?

bike parking work party

bike parking work party

One more month and we’ll be celebrating 5 years of the ecoplex! I find it funny that I find so little time to update this blog now, since in many ways my life has gotten way less busy since the beginning, but also less structured and structure helps me fit things in, I guess.

So the community garden sheet mulch beds are a raging success – they were very, very productive and beautiful (well, still are…only had one night of light frost so far).

Baby birds were finally born on-site as mama-duck hatched her first two ducklings. Sadly, one didn’t make it, but the black duckling is almost full grown and beautiful!

I finished up the remodel of the first floor unit (#3) and moved out – it’s lovely even if I never got around to replacing the vinyl kitchen flooring or adding more natural lighting.

The finished yellow bedroom - new paint, re-plastered ceiling, new light

The finished yellow bedroom – new paint, re-plastered ceiling, new light

I finally fulfilled my dream to live in the basement apartment (#4). It’s also a 2-bedroom, but osh and I both have our beds in one room, so there was a spare room. Rented the first floor apartment and my extra room in the basement apartment to a good friend and her roommates, and I am really enjoying the community! I do have to adjust to sharing spaces and objects though. Last night I got out a drinking glass to use as a cookie cutter, then decided I had to let the dough sit a bit longer. I came back to the kitchen later and rolled out my dough. Then I turned the glass over to cut cookies and poured water all over the rolled out dough! Of course my second thought (after the inevitable swear words in my mind) was to tell this funny story of assuming no one but me was acting on the objects in my kitchen to my housemate.

My new housemates and I formed a work party and finally made bike parking! Well, the roof isn’t on yet, but we have the 4×4 and 4×6 corner posts for a shed roof (salvaged from a fence I am tearing down and other sources) and 5 inverted ‘U’ shaped racks made from 1.5″ galvanized steel pipe and 90degree elbows. The U’s (or n’s) are 5′ long but 2′ is buried in concrete in the ground with 3′ sticking up. They are 1′ wide and spaced 3′ from each other (I’ll get a picture up someday!) A bike can be locked to each side of each inverted U, for an easy 10 bikes, with plenty of space in between to avoid locking peddles and handlebars. Total cost ~$300 so far – mostly for pipe and ready-mix concrete. Will probably spend more on polycarbonate clear roof panels.

Also, last week I figured out my roof had been leaking for a while, as rain water came in around the fan in my dad’s unit (#2). Turns out whoever put on the metal roof years ago never flashed or cricketed around the chimney, they just gooped up the gap with roofing tar stuff. I figured it out pretty fast, but my fix is only temporary – I used some aluminum tape as weak flashing and Henry’s to re-goop. It should last through til spring and I had the materials on hand. It will give me time to figure out if I can do repairs myself, if I should hire it done, or if I should replace the boiler with a high-efficiency condensing unit and rip out the chimney all together (I should, but I don’t have the $ on hand and am reluctant to take out a loan for this).

That’s the big stuff, here’s a summary by category of other summer happenings:

Efficiency and funtional improvements to the ‘plex:
-efficient Panasonic whisper wall fan installed in #3 on a motion sensor switch
-range hood fan in #3 routed to outside (instead of going only to a filter in the hood).
-afore-mentioned bike parking
-storm door mounted on North side door.
-broken dishwasher in #3 replaced with energy star model
-fan in #4 bath put on humidity sensor
-triple pane insulated-frame (U=.13) fiberglass windows ordered from Greatland in Fairbanks to replace the broken and old wood-framed windows in upstairs bath’s (#1 and #2)

A visit to Greatland Window in Fairbanks!

A visit to Greatland Window in Fairbanks!

-3 more Panasonic fans (whisper-green 50cfms) ordered for other 3 baths
-while cleaning water from roof leak out of attic, air sealing attic floor better.

Local food things:
-went dipnetting at Chitina again, tried to make Botargo from salmon roes – smells nasty, but tastes ok, haven’t really done anything with it yet

Rolling salted sockeye roe to make botargo

Rolling salted sockeye roe to make botargo

-collected bountiful poppy seed harvest and made hammentaschen:
making hammentaschen with homegrown poppy seeds

making hammentaschen with homegrown poppy seeds

-grew lots of turnips as usual
-another great fruit year! All the cherries died back so much they didn’t produce, but have 5 apple pies in the freezer and ate countless berries.
-Also a great mushroom year – found some edible agaricus in the front yard that were delish. Decided that hawk’s wings (shingled hedgehog) not worth any effort to parboil out bitterness – yuck! Dried plenty of boletus.

I am working both of my jobs from home now. I have mostly settled in to that, although having 2 different things to do on two different work computers can be a challenge. I manage my website most mornings for about 3 hours before my son gets really up and about, and fit the other in when I need to or can. Osh is homeschooling this year, but he is in a program that includes core classes taught for 4 hours on tues and thurs with a ton of homework. The homework is painful. But it is nice to not have to get up early every weekday and rush off to school. He gets a ride to class, and it doesn’t start until 10am. SO generally life is, or should be, pretty relaxed. With getting work done early or taking computers with me we have been able to visit my mom in Oregon for a week, go to Salmonstock music fest, camp and travel the state in the middle of the week, etc. On the other hand, I often work a bit 7 days of the week. So each day is chill, but no day is totally relaxing. Also, while not too bad, the lack of imposed structure can paradoxically make it harder for me to fit in errands or other routines like posting to this blog. And just when I think I’m going to get a break from working on the ‘plex, the roof leaks (for example). But generally I’m done with aesthetic building remodeling, and plan to just catch up on and do functional repairs as needed, which should make for a less stressful existence. My current housemates are a great community, and I look forward to other joint, mutually beneficial, projects. Having my friend move in to my spare room means that I can (and have had to) get rid of some of my stuff-accumulation (we only need one tea kettle, and why did I have four 1/3 C measuring cups?) I enjoy the extra company, the help with cleaning, and all the other benefits.

SO that’s the update! I’m looking forward to a quiet winter, so maybe I’ll have time for more in depth posts on some things – like bike parking specifics.


State of the Ecoplex


I am feeling good about things lately – maybe because my bathroom is finally (after over 2 years) not in a state of major construction. I feel like I have come far and have all the time in the world to accomplish all the things on my mental to do list. And I feel happy and comfortable in my life and where I am. The daylight must be returning (5 extra minutes a day!)

Currently, my dad is renting one of my upstairs efficiencies – which is wonderful! It is so good to have beloved family under the roof. The other efficiency has a wonderful new tenant, and because of this the chicken coop has three new hens! The downstairs 2 bedroom is about to turn over. The incoming tenant there is also lovely, and will be house hunting which allows me to hurry up and finish cosmetic upgrades to the main floor two bedroom. That will allow my son and I to rent it out and move downstairs (where the guts of the building are – water shut-off, heater, pumps, etc – really should be the landlord’s unit!).

So what’s been accomplished since purchase of the ecoplex in October 2008? Much of this is a repetitive list for those of us who have followed along, but I’m a western, goal oriented person and I like to bask in the glow of goals checked off. Here we go:
-New, efficient indirect hot water heater to replace two old (end of life) gas ones
-4 inches of blue board foam insulation around entire outside of building including 4 feet below the ground around basement: stuccoed on basement, resided with fiber-cement board lap siding above
-some new triple pane windows
-3 out of 4 toilets replaced with low flush ones (and the last one purchased and awaiting installation)
commercial washer replaced at end of life with energy star model, and set up to charge by water temperature – a pittance for cold water, exorbitant for hot
-commercial dryer replaced at end of life with one that can charge by time (to encourage less drying, more hanging to dry hopefully – sign prompts at point of pay also used to discourage dryer use)
-low flow faucet aerators and shower heads
-fixed/replaced faulty zone valves on the heating system
-4 out of 5 thermostats replaced with programmables (and the 5th sitting there waiting to be installed – but it is a bedroom zone that gets set back manually pretty regularly)
-2 really ugly and in poor repair bathrooms remodeled with Habitat for Humanity ReStore tile, new non-leaky faucets, ReStore paint, and lots of upgrading and reuse of current or ReStore fixtures and trim etc.
cork flooring replacing bad, worn carpet in one apartment
-more insulation in attic and some air sealing – more needed, but correctly air sealed around boiler chimney.
-one dishwasher replaced with energy star model. The only other dishwasher in the building has conked out and currently not been replaced.
-lots of trees planted, garden beds made, soil improved, lawns mulched over, parking areas encroached upon and eaten away, compost bins added
-lot next door purchased to fulfill dream of someday having community garden project
insulated chicken coop built in existing shed, chickens and ducks added
bees attempted – deemed too fidgety for Alaska and my laissez faire attitude to animal husbandry. Lots of bees wax and pollen accumulated though
-2 out of four fridges replaced with energy star models. One tested and already fairly efficient. One left to go!
-Insulation added behind drop ceilings between units for better thermal and auditory separation
-many heat and hot water pipes wrapped in pipe insulation
-all bulbs replaced with energy efficient bulbs, outdoor light replaced with photosensitive fixture, fluorescent tube fixtures in basement, kitchens, and entry replaced with single-bulb fixtures with LED bulb (from 80 to 11 watts – some loss of light, but still plenty for the small rooms these were in)
-Lots of other minor repairs, air sealings, leaks fixed, etc
Recycling provided (Curbside service and self-hauling of some things)

Utility use depends a lot on tenant numbers, habits, etc, but generally gas use is down about 40% from the beginning, electricity around 50%, water a bit trickier to tell – very dependent on number of tenants and bathing, garden watering and other habits.

I have recently discovered I still have some very low hanging fruit in the efficiency department – part of the north side of my salt-box roof has no insulation (just kraft paper and foil – guess it’s supposed to be a radiant barrier – those wacky 1960’s builders!) and I still haven’t managed to seal a massive cold air leak at the basement rim joist where the porch attaches (even though I sprayfoamed well where I thought it was). So some air sealing and insulating that should have a great payback. Other big projects I dream of involve insulating the back shed (which recently got a south facing window), finally adding bike parking and a small greenhouse, and taking out the small, single pane northfacing windows in the basement apartment and earth-berming that north side of the above-ground basement wall.

Cosmetic changes

Oh my, I’m seriously behind on posting! I want to post some real stuff – ideas and accomplishments on further energy savings, community building, sustainable living…but a couple more photo essays on some cosmetic changes I’ve effected over this last summer will have to do. I’ll start with the living room of my unit, #3. I’m trying to make this most unlovely of apartments desirable and lovable, so that I can soon rent it to a deserving set of tenants and someday move into the basement apartment, which needs some work and houses the guts of the building (boiler, water shut-off, etc).

Here is a before picture – May of 2009 when I was first moving into the unit – stained, wrinkled, dark green carpet, nasty paneling, etc:

Eventually we removed a big, north facing picture window and replaced it with very energy efficient, triple-pane ‘peeker’ windows:

March 2011, tapin' and muddin'

March 2011, tapin’ and muddin’

Then came painting (all walls and the ceiling) and ripping out carpet:

April 2012

April 2012

Window trim changed this:

April 2012

April 2012

To this:

April 2012

April 2012

And cork underlayment and cork click-together flooring:

April 2012

April 2012


Add a tile entry:

Dec. 2012

Dec. 2012

And some trim:

Dec 2012

Dec 2012

And voila!

Dec 2012

Dec 2012


State of the Ecoplex

About three years ago (6 months after purchasing the 4-plex), I wrote up a 1 page explanation sheet to hand out to prospective/new tenants to explain the eco-plex. I realize that some things have happened since then – maybe not as much as I’d ideally like to have gotten done, but some! Here is the updated explanation sheet, starred items are new in this 3 years):
winter at the 'plex

What makes these eco-apartments??

We are committed to the protection of the environment. Every decision on maintaining, upgrading, and using the building is looked at from the angle of how this will impact the earth and the health of the people that live there. We also want this to be a happy place to live.

Some of the things we have already done (in a bit over 3 years):

-Replaced the old water heaters with a new, much more efficient one
-Replaced light bulbs with compact fluorescents and LEDs
-installed low-flow devices on faucets and low-flow shower heads
-installed water saving toilets in two units
-fixed drips and leaks to save water and energy
-had an assessment done for solar hot water
-weather sealed where possible
-installed an outdoor security light with daylight sensor
-provided on-site recycling services
-providing on-site composting*
-permaculture/food forest upgrading of the yard (fruit trees, garden space for tenants, chicken tractor)*
-new coin-op dryer that allows you to save if you use less energy to dry*
-replaced 2 fridges with energy star fridges*
-replaced one dishwasher with an energy star model*
-had an energy audit to find the most effective measures for saving energy*
-wrapped the building in 4 inches of foam insulation*
-provided a timer for engine block heaters*
-do all snow and yard maintenance by hand (shovels and scythes, no fossil fuels)
-installed programmable thermostats

Some of the things we are planning for the future:

-install solar hot water
-separately metering for electric so that tenants can keep track of their use
-painting, repairing, and upgrading the building with used or green products
-install secure bike parking
-install clothes drying lines in unit bathrooms
-add a greenhouse and water-catchment in the garden

However, our behavior and use patterns are important too!
Things we encourage everyone to do:

– Turn off lights and appliances when not in use
– close windows when the heat is on
– use your programmable thermostat to turn the heat down when you are away or asleep
– wash in cold water and hang dry when possible
– garden
– let us know if there is a problem of any sort

Finally, we realize that it is our foremost job to provide you with a safe, comfortable, happy place to live. Please let us know if you have any suggestions that would make your life here better, and we will do our best to follow them!
OK, thats the short version of the big picture, but what are the little nit-picky things I need to be working on this month? I still need to trim the windows in my unit and paint walls. I also need to finish installing backerboard and tile my bathroom, and install a low flush toilet. The cork flooring to replace my worn out carpet just arrived too. I need to change out the pressure tank on the boiler now that it is warming up a bit, and get an annual check of the heating system. I have identified a place where air is leaking in around the front porch attachment that I need to seal and insulate. And my 20 year+ old convectionairre oven isn’t kicking on, so I need to see if I can get the blower motor fixed. I am also working on changing out all the T-12 fluorescent fixtures for single-bulb light fixtures. I did one in the entry-area that lowered electricity use from 120 watts (4 30-watt T-12 tubes) to 12 watts (one cfl bulb), light levels are still excellent, light quality is now much better!


Cold climate egg production!

One of these days I’m going to write about my building/energy efficiency and community building projects again, but for now it is eggs that are exciting me. I arrived back from an overnight trip to Ft Yukon (where there is some interest in chicken raising due to the high cost of AC store eggs) to find 5 blue-green eggs in the nest!! So it seems at least 3 of the girls are laying. And here is breakfast this morning:

The lighter yolk, bigger egg is a local egg but not from my hens. My hen egg is the one with the bright orange, firm yolk! Delish! Shells are strong as well, and the chickens seem healthy.

So, as I commented on in the last post, my local, energy efficient coop management seems to be working: a 40 watt equivalent 8 watt led bulb on a timer to give 14 hours of supplemented light, in an insulated but unheated coop. Alaskan grown grain (oats, barley, and or wheat) available from an automatic feeder in the coop. Unfrozen water supplied once a day. Scraps are brought with the water including crushed egg shells, table scraps including greens frozen for them in the fall, and salmon scraps (guts, backbones, skin, heads, roe, etc – about a pint to a quart a week). All for 5 hens and 4 ducks.


A permaculture garden in Alaska – most of the year



Murder most fowl

Over two weeks ago now I perpetrated a premeditated offing. The crime scene still shows some blood spatter if you dig around in the snow. I’d spent about 6 months intending to take out my victim, researching killing and disemboweling methods. Even when I grew somewhat attached to my intended target, I counseled myself to remain distant…biding my time.

And then that fateful Tuesday earlier this month. He started making too much noise. It was time to act before the neighbors grew suspicious. I set out my knives and went to work as normal, knowing my victim awaited his fate locked in the shed.

Ok, enough Dexter creepiness…Featherfoot the rooster crowed one morning as I brought the chickens and ducks water, and sealed his fate for the day. I got home from work, set my canning pot on the stove to heat water for plucking, loaded my favorite ‘how to butcher a chicken the simple way’ website and went out to the coop. Featherfoot was gentle to the end, almost no protest as I picked him up, held and petted and cooed to him, hung him up by his feet over a bucket outside, and slit his throat with a sharp fillet knife.

Then he struggled, with what seemed to be minutes of post-mortem wing flapping that caused him to fall from his rope where I held him over the bucket, double checking the mortal severity of my slice, until he quieted.

A bit breathless from this, I then methodically dipped and plucked him and the three young chickens that the dog had offed and left one summer day. Fresh from the freezer, these tender young chickens’ skins pulled off as I worked to pluck and I let that be.


The website butchering instructions were flawless, and all went well, even with my modification of saving the tail (which I love), by cutting under it instead of over. For the young chickens, since they hadn’t been gutted before freezing, I cut off frozen necks, legs, wings and breasts, chucking the rest in the compost for food safety.


He went straight in the oven for that night’s dinner. I followed the high-roast recipe on the butchering site, but in hindsight I should have cooked him slower or frozen him first to tenderize the meat. He was very tasty, but a bit tough and stringy the first night, much more tender in soup the next day.


I’m not sure I fully feel him as gone, and I’m sure the butchering was easier since my contact with the chickens is fairly limited in the winter ( the cold keeps us all inside more). I know it will be sad to not see him out being so wonderfully roosterish with his girls in the spring. But I am very proud that I seem to be cut out for this practical farmer lifestyle. The not-unpleasant but not-appetizing sweet smell of the guts was the only slightly distasteful thing (other than meting out death) of the whole process for me. The liver was amazingly tasty though. I remarked that I would raise meat birds just for the amazing taste of their fresh livers! (yumm…with fava beans would be good!)

Rest in peace, wonderful Featherfoot…if I can say that to someone I killed and ate.