The Devil Queen

How my wife and I sold our souls to the Queen Anne Victorian we tried to save.

My Photo
Location: Crow Mountain, Arkansas, United States

Synopsis: This is a cautionary tale. A seriously disturbed couple find the charming, old ruin of a Queen Anne Victorian in Russellville, Arkansas, and buy it for $1.00. They tore the roof off, cut it in half, and had it moved to some land they owned sixteen miles away because they didn't know any better. Since then, they have hired and fired contractors, had all of their tools stolen, re-wired, re-plumbed, insulated, and essentially rebuilt the entire house. Their only problem is that after four years it still isn't finished. Now they are tired, broke, and wonder what in the hell it is they've done to themselves. And, it's haunted.
(Last updated on April 3, 2008)

Press: Russellville Courier Article - December 2003, HGTV website article, AP story - October 2006, and Victorian Homes Magazine - February 2008 (link coming soon).
Art: From time to time, I receive requests for my art. If you would like to look at more of my art, go to The Failed Artist. If you would like to buy my art, email me. I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Thanks!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Blue Vinyl

I read this post today, and it reminded me of this website, Blue Vinyl. Blue Vinyl is a documentary made by Judith Helfand & Daniel B. Gold about vinyl siding. I think it won an award at Sundance four or five years ago. My ever environmentally conscience sister referred me to this site a couple of years back.

I hate vinyl siding. First, it is ugly. I don’t care how much they faux wood grain they give it or how they thick they make it; it still looks and feels like plastic. Second, it is not maintenance free as they like to claim. Sure, it won’t rot for thousands of years, but that doesn’t mean that it’ll look good.

I worked in an appraisal office for a few years, and I saw a lot of vinyl siding. Given half a chance, vinyl siding will do some weird things: it fades, it gets brittle (shattering if hit), warps, strips off in high winds, and buckles. They claim the newer stuff won’t do this, but I don’t believe them. I mean, they are trying to sell this shit. A positive marketing campaign usually doesn’t include statements like, “It doesn’t suck as much as it use to,” or, “Great stuff except for a few problems.”

Vinyl siding is also flammable. As a bonus, when it catches fire it gases off some seriously toxic chemicals. If I remember correctly, one of the gases is what the Nazis used in their gas chambers.

If you think that this is bad, you don’t want to know what it does to the people who actually make it. You’d have a better chance of living till fifty if you smoked four packs of cigarettes a day, drank a fifth of whiskey with dinner, and had unprotected sex with $5 hookers. Really.

In the 1970’s, the Devil Queen was clad in mint green vinyl siding, and it stayed there until we started stripping it off in 2002. Getting it off isn’t too hard. The first couple of runs are the worst. The slats of siding lock together and getting them to unlock is a bit tricky (use a pry bar and brute force). After that, all you do is slide your pry bar under the siding (preferably near the nails) and just pop it off. Half the time the nail comes out with the siding and the rest of time they remain buried in the wood after the vinyl is gone. Pulling them is tedious, but not too bad. If you’re lucky, the nails won’t have cracked too much of the under-laying wood siding. Mind the dust, dirt, and spiders though. The only great thing about an old house clad in vinyl is it protects the original wood siding from the elements. About 75%-80% of our original siding survived.

Instead of sending our vinyl siding to a landfill, we ran an ad in the local paper. Basically, it said, “free, used vinyl siding; come and get it.” Within a week some came and hauled it all off. I imagine sooner or later this abortion of a building product will end up in a landfill somewhere, but, at least we’ve delayed the inevitable for a while. And, at least the folks that got it didn’t buy new siding for their shed. There is already too much of this shit in the world as it is.

For those of you who might be interested, here is the synopsis of the documentary Blue Vinyl that I’ve quoted from the website:

“My father’s answer to rotten wood…Everyone assured me vinyl siding was safe, and would only let off toxic gas in the rare event of a house fire. But after my experience with cancer caused by DES [a synthetic estrogen and anti-miscarriage drug prescribed to my mother and millions of other women], I figured any material so loaded with synthetic chemicals had to pose some kind of risk. Later I asked my dad, "If you had known that over the course of its lifecycle, from the factory to the incinerator, vinyl produces a wide array of deadly pollutants that threaten our future with a global toxic crisis, would you still have put it on the house?" "I hope not, honey," he said. "But they didn't write that on the box." So, with a piece of vinyl siding firmly in hand (a remnant from my parent’s house) I took off – on a journey to re-write the outside of the box.

The vinyl capital of America I wanted to go to the source of my parents' vinyl siding, and since Louisiana produces about a third of North America's PVC, the key ingredient in all vinyl products, there's a good chance it started right here in Lake Charles – a port city about forty miles from Texas. Lucky for me, I arrived in Lake Charles just in time for Mardi Gras. It soon became clear that my father's answer to rotten wood was somebody else's toxic hazard. I wanted a better idea of just what went on inside a vinyl plant. But when I tried to arrange a visit, the public relations officer turned me down and instead referred me to the industry's trade association, the Vinyl Institute. (It is still a mystery as to how an industry trade association whose mission is to “promote and protect vinyl” for their corporate members can have an “org” which symbolizes non-profit status, go figure.)

And then to Venice, not exactly the first place that leaps to mind when you think of vinyl. But it’s actually one of the vinyl producing centers of Europe and has been since the 1960’s when Ampelio Magro worked as a “bagger”. He now speaks with the aid of a vibrating voice box.“One day I went to lunch to eat, and I washed my hands, and my arms. And when I dried myself, and I looked at my hands, they were white. My co-worker looked at me and said: 'The dust. What have you done to yourself?' And I couldn't wash it off. 'And the dust that you breathe,' he said, 'When will that come off? If it won't even come off by washing your hands? When will that go away? Stay home from work,' he said. This is what happened to me. I can assure you that in one of the departments where PVC was being produced, the way in which it was bagged was terrifying. From here, those who worked there, very few are still alive. And it was here that you had all the baggers. Everybody. Because I have cancer in the lungs, and it was here that the poison affected us, in all of the lungs at the larynx.

Kicking off a toxic odyssey to find an affordable building material that didn’t harm anyone at any step of its life cycle. Blessed and somewhat haunted with the first-person knowledge of the health impacts of vinyl production -- past and present -- on the residents and workers in Lake Charles, Louisiana and Venice, Italy, I became obsessed with the idea of taking the vinyl siding off my parents house and replacing it with a less harmful material. My co-producers and I grounded this fantasy with the ideas and experiences of nationally recognized and independent scientists, doctors, legal experts, “eco-builders and architects”, environmental business theorists; and an old Yiddish saying: “ if your neighbors’ house is on fire you’re also not safe”. Ultimately I got my mother’s begrudging but sincere blessing and I set out to find an alternative. From stucco to sustainably harvested cedar shakes my colleagues and I jumped feet first into the complex world of trying to choose materials that don’t hurt anybody at any stage of their life cycle – from production to disposal – and can also easily recycled. In San Francisco I cut a deal with a “green” straw-bale house builder to come home with me to Long Island to help talk my parents into stucco. Finally – one fixed t.v. antenna later -- my parents said yes, not to stucco – but to the concept. So in addition to meeting my own high standards of non-toxic, sustainable, and affordable -- I had to find a material that fit in with the neighborhood and could [hopefully] be put on in time for the High Holidays. Let’s just say it wasn’t easy. After an exhaustive search I found myself choosing between an old red barn in upstate New York (c. 1890) and what had once been the roof of a mill in Nashua, New Hampshire. (c. 1900). Which one got recycled into a brand new “next life” with Florence and Ted in suburban Merrick Long Island? One thing we can tell you...the house is STILL blue. An environmental health movie --- let alone a “social change” documentary has never been this much fun.”


Blogger SmilingJudy said...

I loved this movie, too. Every house-lover (old or new) should see it.

4:09 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

How long do you think it will be before there is a class-action lawsuit against vinyl siding manufacturers. I think it will turn out to be another thing like asbestos or lead.

6:18 PM  
Blogger Patricia W said...

I saw this documentary also. I loved the way she got rid of the blue vinyl! Cutting it into small pieces and affixing each one to a Mardi Gras necklace. On each piece, she attached a sticker printed with information about the documentary, their website and the hazards posed by this vinyl.
As ugly as my house is, there is no way I will ever side it with vinyl.
I'd also like to add that my aunt had her house sided in vinyl about nine years ago. She lives in Texas and the house doesn't have many trees for protection from the sun but the vinyl, when hit, will shatter (and it's not even that old!).

6:42 PM  
Blogger John said...

I think there are a couple of lawsuits in the works (one in Louisiana for sure). I'm not sure how good their odds are; I know the Italian companies that make it got sued by their workers and were acquited. Pretty depressing.

7:40 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

My house is covered in aluminum siding. As far as I know the original wood siding is underneath--but I figure once I remove the aluminum siding, at least I can recycle it!

I hate vinyl too. I think it looks tacky no matter what.

There was a cute little farmhouse up the road and they took the whatever-it-was siding off, exposing the wood siding, and then put vinyl up over it. Argh!

10:36 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Free Web Site Counter
Website Counter