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October 15th, 2012
By Vivian Martin
 

Sure, we’re called the “water planet,” but remarkably little of the blue stuff — less than 1 percent — is available to us as potential drinking water. The rest is tied up in saltwater, ice caps and other less-accessible sources. That scarcity isn’t obvious to most of us in the industrialized world, where water is cheap and easy to find, but there are a billion others who aren’t as lucky. And our time of easy water may be waning too, with the U.S. Government Accountability Office predicting water shortages in 36 states by 2013.

Being water wise can cut your utility bills, reduce the need for costly investments in water treatment and delivery systems, and contribute to a more sustainable water future. The bathroom is the place to start since it’s the water hog in your home, accounting for more than half of the indoor water you use. Check out these water-wise plumbing fixtures that don’t compromise style or function. 

October 27th, 2011
By Vivian Martin

In our energy efficiency series of articles featured each Thursday, we provide strategies or information on how to make your new home energy efficient and comfortable. 

Choosing an energy-efficient upgrade to your home includes decisions of conscience and return on investment. This handy graphic illustrates some optional upgrades, the cost of installation and potential energy savings.

(Click on graphic to enlarge)

Home Solar Power Discounts – One Block Off the Grid

Each Thursday, we will feature a blog entry about energy efficient new homes, covering a range of topics from building innovations to ratings systems to “score” your home’s efficiency. Subscribe to theDrummondHousePlans blog to make sure you get the latest news on how to make your new or renovated home energy efficient.


June 29th, 2011
By Vivian Martin

“The population is growing, but the water supply is not,” says Bill Hoffman, a coordinator for the City of Austin Water Conservation Program, in Texas. That’s why people around the country are turning to the centuries-old practice of collecting rain as an alternative source of water.

By collecting rain from a roof during wet months and storing it in a tank or cistern, homeowners can create an alternative supply that won’t tax the groundwater or jack up the water bill. And because rain doesn’t contain the minerals found n wells or the chlorine in municipal supplies, it’s ideal for watering the lawn, washing the car, doing the laundry, taking a shower—even drinking if it’s properly filtered.

“Rainwater is the purest water you can find,” says Dr. Hari Krishna, president of the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA).

Read the full article courtesy of This Old House…

Read more on related DrummondHousePlans blog topics on rainwater collection and water conservation.

June 6th, 2011
By Vivian Martin

As industries shift to accommodate a new market for eco-friendly products, your choices as a consumer are becoming more and more important to the task of creating a greener world. This permeates your schedule day-to-day, including the part where you have to do your laundry.

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The laundry room has a lot of potential when it comes to green living.  It can be a challenge to find ways to live a green lifestyle, especially if you are on a budget and don’t have the money to lay out for extensive home upgrades. The laundry room is a great place to start thinking green, however, and the tips that follow will help you to make more eco-friendly choices when it comes to doing laundry.

Choose Energy Star Laundry Appliances

While it doesn’t make a lot of sense for you to run out and replace your old energy-sucking washer and dryer pair with a sleek, energy-saving duo, it is a smart move when the time comes.  When replacing laundry appliances, look for those that have the Energy Star logo when you’re buying new ones.  Energy Star washing machines consume only about 25 gallons of water per load, as compared with an average of 40 gallons for standard top-loading machines.  Energy Star dryers also take much less energy than their non-energy saving counterparts.

Choose a Front-Loading Washer

Go even greener by choosing a front-loading washing machine.  The front-loading washer operates on a horizontal axis, and this can save both energy and water.  The front-loader needs less water to do the same job as a top-loader because the tub rotates, tumbling the clothing inside into the water, as opposed to top-loading machines that must be filled in order to do their job.  And the top-loading machine also reduces the amount of energy that is required to dry your clothing, as they spin at a faster rate, which means that the clothes have less water in them when they are finished in the wash.

A front-loading washing machine uses about a third less water and half the energy of a traditional top-loading washing machine. This savings can easily allow the washer to pay for itself within five-six years of purchase, although most top-loaders have a life expectancy of ten years or longer with proper maintenance.

Quick tips for laundry day

As mentioned above, it isn’t a green move to replace an appliance that is still in working order. Why?  Because the old appliance has to end up somewhere – and that eventual home is typically an already overburdened landfill.  Thus, keeping your appliance for as long as possible is a more earth-friendly option.  But you can still follow the tips below to get the most out of your older laundry appliances:

  • Wash in cold water.  Cold water can be gentler on your clothing, and it can also save up to ninety percent of the cost of doing laundry from an energy perspective.
  • Designate a particular day of the week as “laundry day” and do subsequent loads in order to maximize the built-up heat in the dryer.
  • Always make sure that you wash full loads.  You will be using almost the same energy for a “small” load as for a “large” load.
  • Consider line drying clothing when possible. This will not only save energy but is also gentler on most fabrics.
  • Keep the lint trap of your dryer cleaned out after each load.  This allows for heat to circulate properly within the dryer, and thus improves the dryer’s performance.

Original article: Build Direct Green Blog

FAQ’s about cold water washing from BC Hydro

ENERGY STAR appliances usually cost more than others. Would I save money if I don’t buy an ENERGY STAR washing machine but I keep it well maintained?
No. It is always a good idea to keep any appliance well maintained for optimum performance, but even so, ENERGY STAR-rated washing machines are so much more efficient than other models – 36% more efficient than government standards – that they generally pay for themselves in just a few years. Think of an appliance as having two prices: the cost to buy it and the cost to run it. The higher cost of running less energy-efficient appliances quickly cancels out the lower purchase price.

If I only wash in cold water, will my clothes still get as clean?
Yes. Clothes can come out just as clean in cold water, even whites. If you have hard water, try adding some borax to your laundry to brighten whites and colours. You can also add 1/2 cup of lemon juice to the rinse cycle for fresh bright laundry, or use natural biodegradable, non-chlorinated bleach on your whites if you find they’re not bright enough. Hanging your laundry in the sun to dry it will also act as a brightener. Sunlight is a natural bleaching agent.

What about hard-to-remove stains?
Spot clean stains with a natural spot remover before you launder them. The stains will likely come out readily in cold water and you’ll use less energy. For really tough dirty or oily stains, use the “warm” water setting instead of “hot.” You are still cutting your energy savings in half. Also, use a natural stain remover prior to washing or presoak clothes to help loosen the dirt or oil from the stain.

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 13th, 2011
By Vivian Martin

As beautiful as private landscapes can be, and they can be stunning, none can match the poetry, joy and solace of a public garden done right. As proof, look no further than Arlington Garden in Pasadena. Here, since breaking ground on the 3-acre site five years ago, neighbor Betty McKenney has seen just about every kind of human interaction.

“We have people who meditate and pray,” said McKenney, left. “We have counselors and young people from a local clinic, some of whom are pretty troubled. Certainly there are schools and Scout programs. People bring their computers, or they read. They walk dogs. We see engaged couples getting photographed. Other photographers work on catalogs with their models. Last time it was a little bit risque. Some of those girls had really long legs. We see couples — 70, 80 years old — holding hands walking through the garden. I saw a mom one afternoon sitting with her little boy. He was eating a pomegranate and they were talking about birds. Then teenagers come in at night. We have it all.”

And that’s even before arriving at the plants, a mix of carefully selected, drought-tolerant California natives and Mediterranean climate zone imports, assembled in a public space that is first-class wildlife habitat and model of water conservation.

The people who did the most to make Arlington Garden are McKenney and her husband, Charles. After retiring from a computing job at Caltech (Betty) and practicing law (Charles), and quickly rethinking a brief move to Santa Barbara, these Pasadenans bought a condominium on Arlington Drive. Next door were 3 acres of mown weeds interspersed by a gaggle of palms and a few trees. This was the last remnant of Durand Mansion, a baronial monstrosity razed in the 1960s.

Caltrans bought the land during the construction of the 710 Freeway but never used it. By 2003, the city of Pasadena was holding public hearings to discuss alternative uses. “Everyone said no this, no that,” Charles said. “No playing field. No parking lot. Nobody said what they did want.”

Betty and Charles, himself a former Pasadena councilman, were tasked by the city to form a committee and canvass for ideas. “I thought maybe we should plant a few trees out here,” Charles said. “Betty kind of patted me on the head.”

Full article and more images here…

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

Thanks for visiting the DrummondHousePlans Blog!

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 - http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/publications/en/rh-pr/tech/03-100-e.htm

 



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