Archive for the 'wastewater' Category

March 22nd, 2011
By Vivian Martin

Today is World Water Day and it just so happens that Jerry Yudelson, noted green building authority and author, has released a new conceptual tool to help people understand where water will come from in the future.  The tool mimics the popular Pyramid of Conservation used by Minnesota Power and explains water sourcing in ten increasingly expensive and complex steps.As shown at the base of the pyramid, it’s easy and relatively cheap to use less water.  It’s a lot more complicated and expensive to desalinate ocean water for human consumption. 

Here are the ten steps:

  • Behavior – education, audit, water pricing, conservation, construction codes
  • Low-cost/no-cost – leaks, aerators, low-flow showerheads, shower timers
  • Irrigation – native or adaptive landscape, drip systems, web-based irrigation, sub-metering
  • Hygiene – retrofits, low-flow toilets, water-free urinals, rebate programs
  • Appliances – dishwasher, clothes washer, water softener
  • Extreme Makeover – compost toilets, hardscape, no irrigation, on-site black water reuse
  • Water Heating – solar water heating, hot water loop, efficient water heater
  • On-site Reuse – rainwater collection, gray water, irrigation
  • Off-site Reuse – sewer mining, purple pipe systems
  • Desalination, New Water Sources

Of course, some of these can be done at home (i.e., retrofits, water-saving appliances, water heating), while require a larger effort (i.e., desalination, off-site reuse).

Water is a precious resource that must be protected, and this is a primer to get that started.  All in all, this is a straight-forward, dead-simple graphic that can help us evaluate how to do that.

(Article Source: Jetson Green an excellent source for energy and resource-saving ideas)

February 28th, 2011
By Vivian Martin

Would you water your garden with what goes down your shower drain or out your washing machine? In Tucson, Arizona, and an increasing number of water-starved western cities, more and more residents are saying yes.

If you’ve never contemplated what happens to the water that gets you or your clothes clean, you’re far from alone. But for cities and environmentalists trying to head off the growing threat of drought and rising water costs, so-called graywater — differentiating it from the “black water” that goes down the toilet — is getting a lot more attention. A decade ago, Tucson, which has about a million residents in its metro area and is a liberal and environmentally conscious oasis in a red state, convinced Arizona legislators to make it legal for homeowners to irrigate their trees and plants with the water that was going down their drains or out of their washing machines without a permit. Now, graywater use is not only legal in Tucson, and indeed the rest of Arizona, but promoted, and, in some cases, required. In 2007, the state rolled out a tax credit of up to $1,000 for homeowners who install graywater systems. Last year, a law — believed to be the country’s first — went into effect in Tucson that requires builders to include graywater plumbing in new construction.

(Article source: Time article series on Intelligent Cities. Read full article here…)

February 6th, 2011
By Vivian Martin

Whether by conscience or necessity, many people are looking to reduce their water consumption. The perfectly manicured emerald lawn may certainly look lovely but normally requires a great deal of work, chemical intervention and labour. If you stopped pampering your golf green, nature would inevitably take its course and take over and balance the space. Somewhere between the two, is a solution to provide a landscape that is visually pleasing, yet sustainable.

Photo Source: Okanagan Xeriscape Assoc.

Photo Source: Okanagan Xeriscape Assoc.

Xeriscaping and xerogardening refers to landscaping and gardening in ways that are more sustainable, consuming far less or no water for irrigation. As with many gardening techniques, you will go through processes of trial and error but the end result is a landscape or garden which is actually far less labour intensive.

The word xeriscaping is a portmanteau of the Greek word xeros (for “dry”) and landscaping. It quite literally means landscaping with minimized water use.

Alternate terms that may be used are water-conserving landscapes, drought-tolerant landscaping, zeroscaping, smart scaping, or dry gardening.  The use of plants that tolerate local climate conditions is emphasized.

Xeriscaping is fairly common-sense actually. It is an intuitive way of dealing with the hand that nature deals you rather than creating an artificial environment.

1. Plan and design
As with most landscape plans, start with a diagram, drawn to scale, that shows the major elements of your landscape, including house, driveway, sidewalk, deck or patio, existing trees and other elements.

Then think of the functionality of your design. Do you need space for dogs to run? Children to play? Curb appeal? Create privacy? Frame or screen views? Create a conceptual plan (bubble diagram) that shows the areas for turf, perennial beds, views, screens, slopes, etc. Once finished, develop a planting plan that reinforces the areas in the appropriate scale. If you are having a difficult time with this process, contact local greenhouses or horticulture societies for possible referrals of landscape designers.

2. Soil amendment
All plants will benefit from the use of compost, which will help the soil retain water. If you are blessed with adequate organic material, you can create your own. Alternatively, there are many sources where you can buy composted waste (greenhouses, farmers, landscape materials, etc.)

3. Efficient irrigation
Xeriscape can be irrigated efficiently by hand or with an automatic drip or sprinkler system. If you choose to include turf areas, these should be zoned separately from other plants to allow the most efficient irrigation of each type of planting. For grass, gear-driven rotors or rotary spray nozzles that have larger droplets and low angles to avoid wind drift. Spray, drip line or bubbler emitters are most efficient for watering trees, shrubs, flowers and groundcovers.

Note: The most efficient sprinklers release big drops close to the ground rather than misting or throwing the water high in the air.

Deep, infrequently watering develops deep roots. Evening or night watering reduces water lost to evaporation. Automatic sprinkling systems should be adjusted monthly to accommodate weather conditions and the installation of a rain sensor will prevent irrigation when it rains.

4. Appropriate plant and zone selection
Common sense time… To minimize water waste, group together plants with similar light and water requirements, and place them in an area that matches these requirements. Moderate-water-use plants fair well in low-lying drainage areas, near downspouts, or in the shade of other plants. Turf requires the most water and shrub/perennial beds will require approximately half the amount of water. Dry, sunny areas support low-water-use plants. Planting a variety of plants with different heights, color and textures creates interest and beauty. Don’t forget about incorporating indigenous plants. They will thrive with little or no fuss!

5. Mulch
Mulch cannot be underestimated. It keeps plant roots cool, prevents soil from crusting, minimizes evaporation and reduces weed growth. Organic mulches, such as bark chips, pole peelings or wood grindings, should be applied 2 to 4 inches deep. Fiber mulches create a web that is more resistant to wind and rain washout. Inorganic mulches, such as rocks and gravel, should be applied 2 to 3 inches deep but use this practice with caution as it makes the area hotter.

6. Alternative turf
Many native grasses (warm-season) have been cultivated for turf lawns. Find like-minded people in your area and benefit from their experience and preferred blend. Warm-season grasses are greenest in June through September and straw brown the rest of the year. “Grass gardens” can also be a lovely addition to your landscape scheme as they come in a variety of heights, textures and colours and can provide lovely four-season interest.

Native grasses (cool season) such as bluegrass and tall fescue, are greenest in the spring and fall and go dormant in the high heat of the summer. New cultivars of bluegrass, such as Reveille, and tall fescue, can reduce typical bluegrass water requirements by at least 30 percent. Fine fescues can provide substantial water savings and is best used in areas that receive low traffic or are in shady locations.

Use the appropriate grass for your selected area and limit the amount of grass to reduce the watering and maintenance requirements.

7. Maintenance
All landscapes require some degree of care during the year. Turf requires spring and fall aeration along with regular feeding every 6 to 8 weeks. Keep your grass height at 3 inches and allow the clippings to fall. Trees, shrubs and perennials will need occasional pruning to remove dead stems, promote blooming or control height and spread. Much of the removed plant material can be shredded and used in composting piles. Just avoid composting any weeds that have gone to seed. They will come back to haunt you!

Some helpful resources on the topic of xeriscaping:

Also of interest may be past Drummond House Plans blog entries on Rainwater Collection Systems.

Thanks for visiting the DrummondHousePlans Blog!

January 23rd, 2011
By Vivian Martin

At DrummondHousePlans, we scour the web for resources for you. With so much discussion about eco-friendly and green building options, it is great to see articles that are more factual than full of greenwashing. The following article from the BuildDirect Green Blog may help wade through the hype and think a little more objectively.

As a term, ‘Green’ has been a hard one to truly define in broad strokes. It seems more appropriate to judge what is green based on a setof criteria, and to match products to that set of criteria on a spectrum,  rather than as one hard-coded definition.  The best way to approach the business of choosing green building materials therefore is to take a look at this list of criteria, decide what is most important to you, and see how many ‘checkboxes’ a certain option in green building materials meets.

With this in mind, I thought I’d talk about the green building materials that you may think about investing in during the coming year for your home improvement projects.  Luckily, in the last few years the range of items that meet the criteria have expanded, as the industry has become more and more sensitive to the increasing demand for sustainable building materials.

Specifically, I’d like to talk about some of those ‘checkboxes’  I mentioned earlier, to put these materials into a proper context.  Here are some of the big ones:

1. Resource efficiency. How quickly or easily is the material processed without undue impact to the environment? Does that resource renew itself fast enough in line with the demands placed upon it by industry, and is the process in place that go into its manufacture recognize the importance of this balance? Is that resource long-lasting enough to serve as reclaimed materials at a later date?

2. Indoor Air Quality. Does the material meet with government and industry standards for emissions. CARB is a body that has led the way in reducing the percentage of particles into the air from the materials themselves. Also in terms of air quality in general, does your building material of choice come out of a process whereby natural materials are preserved for the purposes of C02 absorption?

3. Energy efficiency. How much fuel is burned getting the materials from harvest to market? When it’s installed, how much energy will the material retain to the benefit of energy efficiency to your home in general?

4. Water conservation. Does your building material or fixture of choice contribute to more efficient water usage such as low-flow technology, graywater usage, or rain harvesting?

5. Affordability. Does your building material outweigh the cost of production with long-term durability so as to reduce the requirement for replacement?

Also to be taken into account here is the idea of post-industrial waste, and how your building material option utilizes these types of materials.  For instance, strand-woven bamboo floors utilizes the parings of bamboo used to create traditional bamboo floors, and makes them into a unique product.  Many types of glass and porcelain tile rely heavily on the presence of recycled glass products in the production of new tile surfaces.

In judging just how to choose green building materials, it really is all about balance.  I think it’s about communication too, between you and your building materials vendors, and between them and the manufacturers.  This aspect of things, much like the market itself, is constantly evolving.  But, in the meantime, it’s good to have a starting point toward achieving a better balance when becoming a more informed consumer. It’s information like this that will help us to gain a better balance to our world in general.

Thanks for visiting the DrummondHousePlans Blog!

November 24th, 2010
By Vivian Martin

About 50% of the water used inside U.S. homes can be reused to irrigate landscapes and flush toilets, according to a gray water report released by the Pacific Institute  last week. The Overview of Greywater Reuse examined the application of gray water systems worldwide to determine how the wastewater generated from sinks, baths, showers and clothes washers could be reused to reduce demand for more costly, high-quality drinking water.

“In California, there are a lot of reasons why we’re looking for new and innovative water sources, including the legal restrictions that are coming to bear on our ability to move water around the state,” said Juliet Christian-Smith, senior research associate at the Oakland-based research institute. “Climactic changes are occurring…. We are looking at a future with less of a natural reservoir in our snow in the Sierras and less water available from the Colorado River system.”

In 2009, California modified its plumbing code to allow the reuse of certain types of gray water. The Pacific Institute was interested in examining how that change might affect the state and aid its development of a “soft path of water management.”

“The 20th century was dominated by a paradigm of water supply and water extraction which focused on large-scale centralized resources like reservoirs, canals and pipelines that have been very successful at moving water and providing a higher standard of living but also come with social, environmental, energy and economic costs that weren’t apparent from the beginning,” said Christian-Smith. “As we move into the 21st century, we’re starting to think about other options … such as demand management — conservation and efficiency — and to look at new technologies that reuse water.”

Australia is the most progressive country in terms of gray water policy. The government for this drought-prone continent not only promotes gray water reuse but provides monetary incentives for systems that recycle wastewater from showers and sinks to flush toilets and irrigate outdoor plants. Korea, Cyprus, Japan and Germany are also at the forefront of gray water technology implementation.

While there is no national policy in the U.S. regarding gray water, about 30 of the 50 states have some sort of gray water regulation, some of which require treatment of the wastewater before its reuse. Other states, including Arizona and California, use a landscape’s soil as a natural filter to reduce potential contaminants.

According to the report, which cited a study conducted in Barcelona, Spain, this year, factors determining public acceptance of gray water include a perceived health risk, perceived cost, operation regime and environmental awareness.

The Overview of Greywater Reuse is a starting point, Christian-Smith said, to “a larger project that will start to outline supportive and protective instruments” for understanding the long-term impacts of gray water reuse.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Photo credit: Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times

Additional reading on greywater systems in Canada -


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