GREEN BUILDINGAs the newest member of the Heimsath staff, I have been offered the opportunity to share some of my interests through this blog. Since I am particularly interested in green building, I wanted to kick off with a series on sustainable water solutions. A little background may be helpful to explain my interest in sustainability. I grew up on a farm in Vermont where waste was closely associated with want, and every part of a resource got used to maximum effect. For example, when my dad cut down a tree, every part was designated for some use: the branches to be piled and burned for ash to spread on the fields as fertilizer, the trunk to be sawn into lumber, the scraps from sawing to be used as fuel to boil maple sap into syrup, and the sawdust as bedding for animals, which would in turn be used for fertilizer.
This early training in frugality and careful use of resources developed into an interest in sustainable design and construction, which often seems to me mostly a matter of figuring out the most efficient and sensible way to do things. While in graduate school I worked for the UT Center for Sustainable Design developing materials to educate students about different sustainable design strategies, and I have found opportunities to use this knowledge since then in practice. I hope that this information will be helpful to you as you consider how you wish to integrate elements of sustainable design into your lifestyle or project.
SUSTAINABLE WATER SOLUTIONS
We have been lucky enough to get some rain this week in central Texas, which has served as a reminder that water is a rare and increasingly precious commodity in this area and throughout much of the west, as the drought conditions map from the national weather service indicates (this map is updated weekly and can be viewed at: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/). Growing populations combined with long-term drought are making water conservation an increasingly urgent issue. While the southwest has historically seen major droughts in decade-long cycles, recent dry conditions are unprecedented. If extended periods of drought continue, it will be difficult for much of the southwest to support current population levels, let alone continue to grow. Even in areas where plenty of water is available, treating and distributing it can be expensive and energy intensive, providing another incentive to reduce consumption. While some strategies for reducing water consumption have been around for a long time, growing concerns about water conservation have encouraged the development of more products and options. There are a number of strategies that you can employ to make your home use water more efficiently, many of which are simple and easily implemented. Part 1 will look at things that you can do inside your house, while Part 2 will address options for landscaping and water treatment.
Awareness and patterns of use: The habits that you develop surrounding water use have a huge impact on your rate of water consumption. For example: do you leave the faucet running when you shave or brush your teeth? Changing this one habit could save hundreds of gallons per year. Doing laundry or running your dishwasher only when you have a full load can also save water. In some cases, doing dishes by hand might be more water efficient than using a dishwasher, especially if you only have a few dishes. Long showers or large baths can also use up more water than needed. In all of these cases, changing your habits can result in substantial savings without changing anything about your living space.
Low flow fixtures: While this may seem obvious, many people don’t realize what a difference it can make. It is easy to retrofit existing faucets and showers with aerators and low-flow showerheads for immediate results, and a multitude of great options exist for choosing new fixtures. Using low flow fixtures alone can reduce water usage by 25% - 60% annually. While some of these products have been around for a while, a much greater range of appliances and fixtures is now available, in a variety of styles and functions. Some innovations may seem strange at first, but offer practical alternatives that can be implemented right away. For example, if the water from your sink could be used to flush your toilet, using the water twice before it goes into the sewer system, why not allow your sink to drain into your toilet? Products have been developed that integrate a sink into a toilet tank cover, allowing water to drain directly into the toilet bowl. An example can be seen at http://sinkpositive.com/site/home/, although there are several other products available as well. All of these options can allow you to incrementally replace or update fixtures in your house, or choose a set of fixtures for a new project that can start it out at a great baseline.
Recirculate: Typically our hot water heaters are a long way from our faucets and showers, so we spend a long time running the water and waiting for it to get hot while all of the water that was sitting in the pipes gets wasted. Installing a recirculating pump can solve this problem. When turned on, the pump sends the cold water that was in the pipes back to the hot water heater to get warmed up, while bringing hot water up to the faucet for you to use immediately. A number of these products are available and they are becoming more popular, so your plumber should be familiar with installing them. It is often possible to install them inside the cabinet of an existing sink – consult your plumber to see if this is an option if you are interested in retrofitting.
Next week: Ideas for sustainable water solutions for landscaping and water treatment.