Camry vs. Corolla

It’s been a month since we sold our 2002 Corolla and “upgraded” to my MIL’s 2011 Camry.  The decision was made in the midst of a million billion other decisions because that was when the opportunity presented itself.  As such, it was not the most well-though-out purchase in the world.

Our general thought process:

  • The Corolla has been quite reliable, but it is getting up there in years. Also, a little crammed when the three of us are in there together (which wasn’t all that often).
  • The Camry is much newer (though already 100k+ miles — my MIL likes to drive), and scores well on reliability ratings.
  • The Camry is a limited time offer — we don’t need to replace the Corolla now, but if the need arises sooner than later, we’re stuck hunting for a good used car.
  • The Camry is not nearly as efficient as the Corolla, but our aging Corolla hasn’t been getting the best gas mileage, so maybe there won’t be much of a difference (spoiler alert: FALSE!).

We failed to do one thing that most people do when buying a car — test drive it!  Both Matthew and I have been passengers in the car on road trips, and we even drove it on a few very rare occasions when my MIL yielded the steering wheel.  But those were all highway miles, which are very different from urban streets.

Driving the Camry has been an interesting experience.  I felt like I was driving a boat on my first few outings, and I feared we had made a really bad decision.  Rationally, I know it isn’t THAT big of a car, but on narrow city streets, and compared to the Corolla, it feels pretty huge.  Parking, whether parallel parking on the street or fitting into the suddenly none-too-big spaces in parking lots, is also a new challenge.

Then there’s the engine size and acceleration difference.  Our little, old Corolla engine was perfect for a nice, steady 15-20 MPH on neighborhood streets (despite posted speed LIMITS of 25 MPH, 15-20 MPH is really much more appropriate for many of the dense streets we travel).

In contrast, it’s a struggle to keep the Camry much below 30 MPH.  It’s not impossible, but I have to constantly, intentionally, WORK to maintain appropriate speeds in this car.  This leads me to wonder if our addiction to speed is as much about how we’re building our automobiles as it is about personal choices.  (Still, it IS the motorists’ responsibility to be aware and maintain safe speeds, even when it requires extra effort.)

On the gas mileage front, we’ve only filled up once, so we don’t have official numbers, but the Camry isn’t looking good (that big engine), even compared to the aging Corolla.  We’ll likely be able to go about the same number of miles on a tank of gas, but that’s only because the Camry’s gas tank is bigger than the Corolla’s.

On the upside, the decreased fuel efficiency has already motivated me to choose bike over car on a few extra occasions, so that’s something!

The newer, bigger Camry is, not surprisingly, a much nicer ride than the Corolla — smoother, quieter, etc.  Also, all of the power windows work and the radio power/volume button functions normally — not true of our 14-year-old Corolla.  Generally, I’m not in the car enough to care too much about these things, which is how I prefer it, but there you have it.

The Camry is not the ideal car for us, but we knew that (at least to some extent) going into this.  At this point, the decision is made, and we hope to get the most of the Camry (while using it as little as possible).  Compared to my MIL’s use, the Camry is now in semi-retirement, both in terms of mileage/frequency of use and driving style, as I am determined to maintain my laid-back, granny-driver ways, in spite of the big engine!


Floors fume dilemma

Who gets one coat into having three coats of polyurethane on their floors and has serious second thoughts?  We do!

Here’s the thing — we did a LOT of research, and we never intended to use a polyurethane finish in the first place.  One of the first flooring guys who gave us an estimate suggested we look at Rubio Monocoat, which is a hardwax oil, and I quite liked the idea of a no- or very low-VOC finish that could be touched up easily.

I found a great resource on hardwax oil finishes in the Tadas Wood Flooring blog.  They tested and reviewed four brands of hardwax oil, including Rubio, and another product, Pallmann’s Magic Oil.  It seems like the tide is slowly turning away from the standard polyurethane finishes to these healthier, more environmentally friendly options.

In the end, they declared a tie between the Rubio product and the Pallmann product.  After reading through all of their results, I decided that the Pallmann’s Magic Oil might be a little more forgiving on our imperfect floors.

A bit more on our floors — while all the floors in the house are oak, our flooring guy said we essentially have FOUR different floors because of what floors in different rooms have had on them in the past:

  1. Bedrooms: at some point these likely had some kind of polyurethane finish.  Most recently, they were carpeted.  The wood in both bedrooms has fairly extensive urine stains.
  2. Hallways: had vinyl flooring adhered to the wood with a water-based adhesive; water staining from one of the closets being turned into a main floor laundry.
  3. Kitchen: had linoleum adhered to the wood with an oil-based adhesive (tar paper — yuck!).  Once all of the gunk was scraped and sanded off, this floor looked the best of all of them.
  4. Living room: Not sure if this had ever been finished — maybe some kind of wax or oil finish at some point? Most recently had carpet.  Some staining in this room as well (likely urine), but not nearly as bad as the bedrooms.

Anyhow, the guy we chose to do the floors had used Pallmann’s Magic Oil before, but was concerned that our wood floors would not be good candidates, based on all of the issues outlined above.  He was concerned that the oil would not penetrate well and/or would have weird chemical reactions with previous compounds that had penetrated the wood (i.e., urine, adhesives, etc.), but he said he would try to bleach the urine stains (he did) and that he was willing to do a test patch of the Pallmann’s Magic Oil (he didn’t).

So last week, his crew had an unexpected opening, and they came in and sanded the floors and worked on bleaching the stains.  In order to best hide what remained of the stains, he suggested we use a stain that was darker than what we planned.  He had a test patch of this darker flooring stain (“chestnut”) for us to look at.

When I went over to check the color, I was a bit taken aback.  I wasn’t comfortable making this relatively big decision for our future home without Matthew seeing it in person as well, especially since he was more hesitant to go dark than I was.

But in the end, the color wasn’t the biggest issue.  Once our floor guy saw the sanded floors and the results of the bleaching, he did a one-eighty on the Pallmann’s Magic Oil, basically saying our floors were not a good candidate for that finish, and we’d be unhappy with the results unless we went with a standard oil-based polyurethane.  He also pushed us to make a “decision” quickly, as he didn’t want to leave the floors with nothing on them in the high humidity.

And so we okayed both the darker stain and the standard 3-coat oil-based polyurethane finish.  I should add that this is the finish that we’ve lived with in both of our apartments for the last eight years.  It looks shiny and pretty and is fairly durable.  But with an oil-based poly, you’re essentially walking around on a plastic floor, not a wood floor.

On Thursday night, the day after the first coat of poly was applied, we got a sneak peek at the result.  The floors look really great (we’re both happy with the color) . . .


. . . but after just a few minutes inside, my eyes and throat were burning.  The fumes were horrible!

Now I’m having serious regrets about going with the poly.  The thing is, other than vaguely knowing that oil-based polys are bad in the VOC / indoor air quality realm, we didn’t do all that much specific research, because we weren’t planning to use a poly finish!  I feel like the flooring guy railroaded us into it, without ever even testing the Pallmann’s Magic Oil (we were too overwhelmed to really process that at the time).

So here we are, one coat into a three coat process with the poly.  Realistically, the worst (or at least most obvious) of the fumes will have off-gassed by the time we move in in mid-June.  And we’ve been living with poly floors for the past eight years (I believe the floors in both apartments were refinished not too long before we moved in, but I don’t really remember detecting a smell in either).

But I’m feeling kind of sick about this, especially with a little one in the equation (children are usually more sensitive to respiratory irritants because of higher respiration rates, and there’s just so much still developing in their little bodies — I would prefer G not be inhaling high levels of formaldehyde, benzene, etc.).  I feel like we were talked into perfect-looking floors at the expense of a healthy finish, and really, I would prefer the latter.  We’re not in this for resale value, and it’s not going to be a “perfect” house.

I’m not sure we have a lot of options at this point.  If there is another finish left in the floors, we could have them sanded again and insist on using the Pallmann’s.  If the flooring guy is to be believed, there is some risk in this, as in, it just might not work.  But after regretting falling for his hard sell on the poly, I’m less inclined to trust.  If there is not another sanding left, we’d be looking at tearing out and replacing All. Of. The. Floors., which has is own environmental costs.  Not to mention the $$ cost, which we probably cannot afford.

So we’re probably stuck with the poly.  And it will probably be okay.  But the whole thing stinks!

UPDATE (5/5/16): The floors do have a sanding left in them, but we decided to stay the course with the poly (and keep that sanding for a future refinish).  The final coat was applied on Tuesday, more than 6 weeks in advance of our move-in date, so it will have quite a bit of time to off-gas before we are living there.  Not our first choice for floor finish, but we’re embracing good enough.

Get Out the Vote on August 5

This one goes out to all my fellow Missourians.  We have a primary election coming up next Tuesday, August 5.  It’s easy to let these things slip by, but there are two amendments that caught my attention in this election, one on farming/agriculture and the other on transportation.

Amendment 1 — Why I’m Voting NO
Described by proponents as a simple, innocent “right to farm” bill, this amendment would hurt small farmers and local agriculture by turning over farmland to agribusiness, including foreign corporations.

If you care about local food systems, sustainable growing practices, and/or small farmers, read more here and vote NO to Amendment 1 on August 5.*

Amendment 7 — Why I’m Voting NO
Amendment 7 proposes a statewide sales tax to fund transportation projects.  While I agree we may need some new tax revenue to pay for the upkeep of our roads, a blanket sales tax is not the way to do it:

Those who benefit the least from Amendment 7, people of modest incomes who do less driving and pay a disproportionate share of their incomes toward sales tax, will bear the greatest burden of this regressive tax. (source)

It would make far more sense, and be more equitable, to pay for these expenses with a tax on gasoline (i.e., a use tax), but this amendment actually prohibits a gas tax.  Read more here, spread the word, and VOTE!

*This also made the Huffington Post, from a Humane Society perspective.

Drive until you qualify

When Matthew returned from hell suburbia with the refrigerator, he commented that he didn’t understand how so many people could afford to live in houses like that.  Out of curiosity, I consulted Zillow to see just how much the refrigerator seller’s McMansion cost.  Here she is, in all her sprawling, conspicuous consumption-filled glory:


First, SEVEN bathrooms?  SEVEN?!?!  Assuming that these people could not be bothered to have their children share a bedroom, and assuming a traditional family unit (two parents plus kids), there would be, AT MOST, six people living in this house.  Six.  Yet there are seven bathrooms?  God forbid anyone have to share a toilet.

Second, I would not live in this house, in this location, if you PAID me half a million dollars.

Third, the sellers were asking $200 for the 8-year-old, albeit very lightly used (if they were telling the truth), refrigerator.  I offered $150, partially to factor in the cost of renting a truck to pick it up.  The seller said $175 was the lowest she could go.  Really?!?  You live in a half-million-plus dollar house and you need to squeeze me for that extra $25?

Aside from that, the phrase flashing in my head was “drive until you qualify.”

“Drive until you qualify” is a real estate phrase, based on the historical trend of real estate prices being generally higher in city centers, with decreasing home prices with increasing distance, or “[a phenomenon] whereby potential homebuyers travel away from the workplace until they reach a community in which they can afford to buy a home that meets their standards” (source).

This post on “The Creation of a ‘Drive to Qualify’ World,” explains how this happened:

. . . the connection between suburbia and cheaper housing is not a law of nature: to the extent that it is true, it is true because of public policies.  Throughout America, on both the Left and the Right, it is an unstated assumption that of course, energy and transportation should be cheap, while housing should be more expensive every year.

The most obvious public subsidy to transportation is the use of general tax revenue to support new roads and public transit systems that extend into suburbia.  In addition, government tries to keep energy cheap- not just by failing to tax externalities of energy use such as pollution, but also by encouraging energy production . . . . Even though gasoline costs have increased over the past few years, they are still cheap enough to make auotmobile-dependent suburbs affordable for many.

For comparison, I searched Zillow for some similar homes (5+ bedrooms, 5+ baths) within city limits:


To be fair, this is a VERY desirable part of St. Louis City (and one of the only neighborhoods in the city with this concentration of highly priced real estate), but you can see that for my CL seller to have a similar house in an urban, rather than suburban area, it would likely cost more than twice as much (though the historical homes mapped here are also much more home than the subdivision houses will ever be).

The hundreds of 4000+ square foot McMansions in these south county subdivisions can’t possibly all be housing big families.  Most probably have four or five (at most six) occupants.

The people who live in these subdivisions require motor vehicles to get anywhere of note (my seller had three late-model luxury cars — yay for her!), yet “people with longer commuting time report systematically lower subjective well-being” (source).  Not to mention the real physical health costs of a long car commute.

Despite the perceived notion of suburban living being “cheaper,” that is often not the case, once you factor in the cost of owning and operating a motor vehicle (see “Why Your Daily Commute is Making You Poor“).

It makes me sick that these types of developments were allowed to occur in the first place, given the up-front and on-going environmental costs, but they’ve clearly been driven by consumer demand for these showy, excessively-sized houses.

This seems nothing short of shameful, given the number of people living in poverty.  It highlights the growing economic gap, as well as a disconnect with the reality and impacts of our lifestyle choices.


In case you missed it in the comments on yesterday’s post, EcoCatLady shared some uplifting development-related news.  Perhaps all is not lost . . . .