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Before & After: Living Room (Can You Spot the 4 Energy Efficiency Updates?)


Back on the farm, this super peaceful front half of our living room was not terribly inviting when we first moved in...and wildly inefficient when it came to energy use. While it had a beautiful corner for reading (or in later years, a holiday tree), it was definitely in need of some love to green this area up. Can you spot the 4 changes in the Before & After photo below to change this area of the room from frumpy to fab?

Here are the four changes we made to get this room in eco-friendly shape:

  • Upgraded the Windows - My oh my, those old storm windows from the 80's (or earlier?) were wildly inefficient. To save a TON, I special-ordered *all* of the windows for the house that we would need to replace from our local hardware store, who had the manufacturer deliver them directly to us (and yeah, I measured them at least 18 times I think!) Rather than spending about $20K to have a contractor upgrade our windows to these Energy Star beauties, we had a neighbor show us how to replace one, took good notes, and ultimately replaced 18 out of the 20 windows in our home (yeah, they got gung-ho on windows, let me tell you), but did it at our own pace and saved about 80% in costs. Now these two mega bay windows were NOT fun to replace simply because of the awkwardness of the size and weight of each, but yeah, two rookies like us did it. As the window was set up about 4' off the ground outside, I jerryrigged a platform and 'steps' out of materials salvaged from our barn, so we could carry them up easily instead of trying to use ladders or hold them overhead (yikes), then as soon as a few nails were in, we could exhale and finish the install easily. (Note: we replaced the trim as well on the house, and with gnarly old cedar shingles, it was easy to pluck the ones out we needed and replace after the trim/window was installed).

    • Design Note: I chose to duplicate the small sliding window at the bottom of these bay windows. It's a great way to let in the breeze on huge windows without worrying about any security issues.

    • Green Note: Along with these Energy Star windows, the old windows were donated. Nothing like a 'free' sign on the side of the road to get rid of things quickly...even in the country!

  • Upgraded the Woodstove - Along with the atrocious pink brick hearth, that ancient inefficient woodstove was an instant "GTF outta here" addition to our mega to-do list in renovating the farmhouse. I popped it up on Craiglist for free and a guy grabbed it within hours for his shop. A brand recommendation from a friend also on the coast led us to the Blaze King Chinook - a dreamy woodstove that burns 30% more efficently than traditional ones, leaving almost no ash after a fire and heating the room for up to TWENTY HOURS. I shit you not. While we didn't have the funds to upgrade the heat pump in the house (which I would have done if we were still there, as it was two stories and it didn't have a mini split setup), transitioning this woodstove and using the firewood my husband chopped off thinned alders on our property? It cut our home heating bill by HALF. Yep, half. This particular project was a definite investment - I believe we spent about $4,000 altogether with both the woodstove, getting the chimney cleaned up after the seller's negligent upkeep, and having an HVAC pro do the install (who was so rad, he let me borrow his pickup to get the woodstove 90 min south of our house as they didn't offer delivery).

    • Design Notes: I built the concrete-finish hearth myself, inspired by modern hearth ideas spotted on Pinterest. This project was not terribly spendy - I bought a special masonry chisel for $13 to remove the already-falling-apart bricks, built a frame with 2x4's and fireproof concrete board (miserable to work with but essential for safety and to hold up a 300+ lb stove!), then used a concrete feather finish to coat the boards before sealing it. During the summer - as per this photo - I replaced the firewood holder with an indoor plant to add some color.

    • Green Notes: All of the bricks from the hearth were donated via Craigslist, and the frame for the hearth that went under the fireboard panels was built with reclaimed 2x4's my neighbor was getting rid of. The ashes that did collect in the drawer below? Mixed right into the garden beds as compost.

  • Added Blackout Thermal Curtains - A very inexpensive yet effective update, I picked up some gorgeous white blackout thermal curtains locally to add extra insulation - for both blocking the late afternoon sun coming through our south-facing window in summer, as well as keeping everything warmer and toastier at night during the winter, while maintaining a light and airy vibe.

    • Design Note: Always install your curtain rods near the ceiling! it makes the ceiling - even standard 8' ones like this - look WAY taller.

    • Green Note: The godawful mauve chiffon curtains the seller left behind were donated to Goodwill.

  • Replaced Overhead Light with Ceiling Fan - I loved this Minka Aire ceiling fan in my first home so much that I ordered another one when we moved out to the farm. While we lived on the North Oregon Coast so didn't have a huge issue with heat waves, it still provided a nice breeze in the summer and, when put in reverse, helped out in winter as well. Easy to install and it was able to be used with our without a light, which I loved.

    • Design Note: I prefer the look of flush-mount "hugger" style of ceiling fans. Also referred to as low-profile, these are great for standard 8' ceilings and you never get the wobble of the downrod style fan.

    • Green Note: The light is LED and Minka is known for their plethora of Energy Star-certified options.

Oh yeah, what about the rest of the room?

Well, here are the before & after photos I snapped back then, from the day of the inspection to after the living room was completed, to see how we changed the vibe there. Sustainability updates included:

  • Zero-VOC paint on the walls

  • Jute rug - natural fibers are the BEST (and inexpensive!)

  • Simple art shelf made from scrap wood.

  • My husband's DIY coffee table made with red oak scored from Salvage Works.

  • Curtains I created from dropcloths (before the transition to thermal).

The biggest lesson I learned while living on the farm? We could figure out how to do just about anything, and there was a lot of help in unusual places to achieving our renovation goals without breaking the bank...and doing it at our own pace, with our own unique style.

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