DIY Christmas Trees

A while ago Erik posted a link to an Instructable on how to make chairs out of scrapwood. William, author of that project, just let us know that he’s done a holiday Intructable on how to make a cute and quick modernist “flat pack” Christmas tree.

This sent me into an internet rabbit hole, wherein I procrastinated for a long time by reading about homemade Christmas-tree-like-structures. Two favorites:

1) The Mountain Dew Christmas tree.  On one hand, I’m appalled to think that somebody actually drank that much soda. On the other hand, the structure is really nice and it looks pretty all lit up:

2) And the hardback book tree, made out of a cut-up book. The cool thing about this one is that the cover stays intact, so you can close it up and store it on your book shelf until next season:

Now, I know some people get cranky about book desecration, but even as a book lover and author, I don’t feel this has to be a bad thing. If you’ve ever perused the book section of a Goodwill, you know that there are books out there which could do with re-purposing.

My picks for the chopping block are celebrity bios and inexplicable runaway best-sellers like the Da Vinci Code and 50 Shades of Grey. These publishing phenomena are like biblio oil slicks, cluttering up shelves and choking out endangered books. Erik’s suggestion is Why the Real Estate Boom Will Not Bust – And How You Can Profit from It: How to Build Wealth in Today’s Expanding Real Estate Market …published in 2006. Written by David Lereah, the chief economist of the National Association of Realtors. (!) I’d say maybe that needs to go into a time capsule to explain to future archeologists why our civilization collapsed.

The Heineken World Brick

It’s a great idea that never got beyond a run of about 100,000–Heineken’s “World Bottle”–a beer bottle that doubles as a building material. It was a collaboration between Alfred Heineken and Dutch architect John Habraken back in the early 1960s. The story goes that the idea came when Heineken saw tons of his own beer bottles washed up on a Caribbean beach that also lacked affordable building materials.

It would be great to see more reusable packaging like this. And you could drink your way into a house.

Thanks to Larry Santoyo for mentioning this cool idea in a lecture.

Chairs, are they killing us?

Even American cats sit in chairs.

The knee injuries I’ve accumulated running, hiking and fencing have a lot to do with basic flexibility problems. Mrs. Root Simple likens my inflexibility to that of a ginger bread man. So should I plant my stiff derriere on the nearest yoga mat? Or should I throw out all our furniture? I’m thinking the latter. Let me explain.

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Poultry Houses of the Ultra Wealthy: Part 2

Are $100,000 chicken coops a sign of an empire on the verge of a decadent downward spiral? If so it’s time to get that bug-out location ready because Neiman Marcus publicity flacks just announced a $100,000 “Heritage Hen Mini-Farm.” From the description on their website:

Dawn breaks. The hens descend from their bespoke Versailles-inspired Le Petit Trianon house to their playground below for a morning wing stretch. Slipping on your wellies, you start for the coop and are greeted by the pleasant clucking of your specially chosen flock and the site of the poshest hen house ever imagined. Your custom-made multilevel dwelling features a nesting area, a “living room” for nighttime roosting, a broody room, a library filled with chicken and gardening books for visitors of the human kind, and, of course, an elegant chandelier. The environment suits them well as you notice the fresh eggs awaiting morning collection. Nearby, you pick fresh vegetables or herbs from your custom-built raised gardens. You’ve always fancied yourself a farmer—now thanks to Heritage Hen Farm, you’re doing it in the fanciest way possible!

The Neiman Marcus folks apparently didn’t get the memo on what happened to the original owner of Le Petit Trianon. Those angry mobs of real French peasants weren’t all too happy with a royal family of pretend farmers. Will Neiman Marcus offer a diamond encrusted Gucci guillotine when the chicken coop class war breaks out?

And, in my humble opinion, British hedge fund manager Crispin Odey has a better coop.

Thanks to Root Simple reader Birdzilla Studios for the tip! 

Poultry Houses of the Ultra-Wealthy

Root Simple reader Christopher Calderhead tipped us off to a story in the Guardian on the plans by British hedge fund manager Crispin Odey to build a neo-classical chicken coop. Odey will, apparently, be spending at least £100,000 just for the stone. The Telegraph also covered the story and has more details on the construction,

The temple’s roof – adorned with an Anthemia statuette – will be fashioned in grey zinc; the pediments, cornice, architrave and frieze are in English oak; and the columns, pilasters and rusticated stone plinth are being hewn from finest grey Forest of Dean sandstone.

Sir Peter’s duck house.

This isn’t the first poultry house to cause a scandal in Britain. In 2010 Sir Peter Viggers claimed a £1,645 duck house as part of his expenses as an member of parliament.

Now if your taste runs more towards Dwell Magazine than the neo-classical, a British company sells a £1,950, “Nogg” chicken coop. Modern design, apparently, comes with an even higher price tag than Sir Peter’s duck house!. And, like most modern design, the Nogg is more conceptual than practical. Looks like a tight squeeze for a couple of hens. The Nogg could get Prince Charles started on on one of his anti-modernist architecture rants.

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A DIY Whole House Fan

Our DIY whole house fan.

How hot is our unairconditioned, uninsulated old house? Kelly has temporarily banned bread baking and I’m thinking of opening my own Bikram hot yoga franchise.

But seriously, a few summers ago I decided to install a whole house fan. What’s a whole house fan? It’s a large fan, mounted in the ceiling, that pushes hot air into the attic while simultaneously drawing cool air in from the outside. You turn on a whole house fan when the air outside is cooler than the air inside the house, usually in the evening. It works best in climates that have hot days and cool nights–like Los Angeles or many other parts of the Southwest.

Diagram from Gear Hack.

Whole house fans are usually placed in a ceiling towards the middle of the house. For us that’s the hallway. Unfortunately, between the attic access door and the intake for the central heater, our hallway ceiling had no room to fit a standard whole house fan. And I’m cheap. So I decided to make a DIY version.

I picked up a shop type fan and installed it in a 3/4 inch piece of plywood cut to fit the attic door. It was a simple project and saved a lot of money. I think I spent around $30 for the fan and used a piece of scrap plywood. I added two handles to make it easier to remove the fan/door and access the attic. The final touch was to install an outlet in the attic wired to a switch hidden in a closet so that I can turn the fan on and off. When cooler weather comes around I simply swap out the attic fan for the normal attic door. Would a commercial whole house fan work better? Yes, but I try not to let perfection be the enemy of the good around here.

An attempt to use a bike pump as an air conditioner. Hot cat in background.

It’s still damn hot at Root Simple world headquarters during the day. So maybe I will open that combination bakery/Bikram yoga franchise where you can eat buns while you tone your buns.

How to Make a Native Bee Nesting Box

Back in the spring I made a native bee nesting box by drilling a bunch of holes in the long end of a 4 by 6 inch piece of scrap wood. I cut one end of the 4 x 6 at an angle so that I could nail on a makeshift roof made from a piece of 2 x 6. I hung the nesting box on an east facing wall or our house with a picture hanger.

I used three sizes of holes to see which ones would be most popular: 1/4 inch, 3/16 inch and 1/8 inch. All were moved into by, I think, the same native bee within days of putting up the box. This afternoon, when I went to check on the nest to take some pictures for this blog post, I was delighted to see a lot of activity. There were bee butts sticking out of the holes, as well as bees flying in and out. I think they are some sort of mason bee–extra credit to the person who successfully identifies the species:

They move fast, so I was only able to get these two blurry shots. No, they are not Chupacabras.

With the success of this primitive native bee box, I decided to make more nesting boxes to see if I could attract other solitary, native bees. I put this one together with some small pieces of bamboo that I found in a neighbor’s trash can:

I think there’s a great potential to create works of public art that double as insect nests. For a nice example of this idea see the “insect hotel” designed by by Arup Associates.

For general guidelines on how to build nesting boxes see this guide from the Xerces Society

We also have a project for a native bee box in our book Making It.

If you’ve built or seen a nice native bee box, leave a comment or a link.

Of Man Caves and Woman Caves

I spotted this magazine yesterday at the checkout line in Home Depot. According to Manland, the “ultimate man cave site,” this magazine is “a special-edition magazine from the publishers of WOOD Magazine.” Paging Dr. Freud–WOOD Magazine sponsoring Man Caves? Will Rigid Tools be an advertiser? The Man Caves editors get to have lots of fun coining new words like “mantastic” and throwing around headlines like “Chromed-Up Harley Hangouts.”

From the preview on the Manland site, it seems Man Caves Mag delivers the usual man cave aesthetic package of neon beer signs, motorcycles and flat screen TVs. The editors of WOOD, promise that their Man Caves Magazine will “go behind the scenes to reveal what makes their personalized man space so popular—sometimes the most popular room in the entire house—and find out how they pulled it off on budget.”

Man Caves Mag caught my eye, because our friends at Zapf Architectural Renderings are working on a man cave remodel of the Root Simple garage. It will look something like this:

But seriously. Man Caves Magazine got me pondering gender equality issues. Why no Woman Caves Magazine? A haphazard Google image search for “woman cave” turned up things like this:

Looks like a room that’s never used.

I’m curious if Root Simple readers have man or woman caves. What activities take place in the woman cave? What room of the house does it occupy? Does your woman cave take up less square footage than the man cave? And gentlemen, if you have a homesteader’s man cave what’s in it? Is the man/woman cave trend just another manifestation of the decedent American clutter culture a UCLA study just documented? Comments!