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The great water controversy

Posted by admin on Nov 13th, 2008
Nov 13

About a week ago I put up a poll asking what would be the best way to contain your morning beverage at work. The results so far haven’t been too widely spread, but since there isn’t really anything scientific about the poll, I thought I’d go to an expert and ask them. Who do I turn to when I have a question? Why Ed Begley, Jr. He has an “Ask Ed” section on his site. Well, this is the response I got back:

“Ceramic mug – just don’t WASTE the water when you wash it out. Water a house or office plant with it. do something with the water to not waste it and you have a win-win. ed”

Okay, I can respect that, and that’s *kind of* the answer I expected. The problem I have with the response is that there are limited uses for “gray” water in the office. The plants, which there are very few of in our office, are maintained by a professional service. If even a quarter of the people started using their gray water to water the plants we’d probably kill them from over watering. I’m trying to think of other uses for the water in an office, but I’m drawing a blank. I am slowly starting my plant collection at my desk, but that will take some time for them to mature. Once that happens though, then I will definitely use as much of the water as I can. In the mean time, my coffee cup will just have to continue looking like this:

What can you do with the gray water produced by washing out your cup at the office?

What can you do with the gray water produced by washing out your cup at the office?

In the mean time, the poll is still up and running, so feel free to submit your vote!

Water reclamation overflow

Posted by admin on Oct 30th, 2008
Oct 30

I’ve recently been confronted with an issue of having too much available reclaimable water. As I’ve posted before, I bring a 5 gallon bucket with me in the shower (5th paragraph down) to capture the cold water while I’m waiting for the water to warm up, and I reclaim bath water when I can. I’ve also have been wanting to capture the washing machine discharge but haven’t found a good way to do that with the approval of my wife 🙂

I’ve divulged before that I have an in-ground pool and that is a big part of why I wanted to reclaim as much water as possible – to offset the amount of water I need to put in the pool to account for evaporation (I also try to look for ways to offset the electricity consumption of the pool as well, but that’s a different topic). We decided this summer that the pool needs to be resurfaced since the gunite is very rough and porous-like, and is even worn away in some areas. To do this, of course, we need to drain the pool. As fate would have it the pool pump just died a couple of days ago (which actually is a good thing since I needed to get a more efficient replacement anyway) and now I’m stuck with about 20,000 gallons of stagnant water. What do I do with it?

Unfortunately we don’t have any use for that much water. We don’t have any grass (about 95% of the yard is covered in concrete or the pool) and we only have a few small flower beds. The flower beds are mostly taken care of with the shower water I collect with the bucket so…. I’m going to offer the water to my neighbors, hose down my concrete more frequently, wash the dogs a few times, hose off the house (lots of dust and ash from the recent fires), and wash the cars with the water. Other than that I’m out of ideas. I tried to find out if there was a place I could “donate” the water too but that seems a bit futile. I also had thought to rent a large water storage container originally, but the levels of “dissolved solids” – or TDS levels – is quite high and it is overdue to be changed.

Any ideas? Let me know.

Sep 25

My wife, of course, likes to take baths. My son is afraid of the shower so he takes baths. I try to conserve water wherever I can and even take a 5 Gallon Bucket into the shower with me to collect the water when it’s heating up, and while I’m lathering up (5th paragraph down in the post). In a way I am a bit hypocritical in the sense that I have a pool, and pools aren’t eco-friendly or promote water conservation. I’ve been trying to think of ways to offset the extra consumption of water due to the pool – which leads me back to the bath water.

Our entire yard was cemented over a long time ago. It’s both a blessing and a curse in that it’s nice to not have to mow a lawn or do extra yard work and we save a lot of water by not having grass or other plant life, but it retains heat in a horrible way and on extremely hot days it may not cool down until 2am. It’s essentially a “hose down” yard but if it gets hosed down a few times a week then we aren’t saving any water over a grassed yard. We have two large dogs, so it needs to be hosed down often. I have been looking for a way to clean the bath water well enough to be able to use it to hose down the yard – thus re-purposing a large amount of used water.

I bought a 5.5GPM pump a while back from a used electronics store and I have lots of marine batteries to hook it up to. I also have three 55 gallon barrels which I can pump the water into. I wanted to build something to filter the water before it made it into the barrel, because it’s easier at that point that to filter it while it’s being siphoned out for use. Here’s what I came up with – which was inspired by an episode of Renovation Nation where a homeowner built something similar to filter rainwater:

  • 5 gallon bucket – can be bought at a hardware store for under $5, but most people already have one laying around

  • a 1 1/2″ pipe connector – male and female – for the drain hole. About $4 from the hardware store

  • two 2″ rubber gaskets for the pipe connectors, to seal around the hole. About $2.50 for a two pack (check in the faucet repair area in the plumbing section)

  • bag of sand – it was harder to find than I thought. About $4.50. This will do the core of the filtration

  • bag of pea gravel – about $3.50. This is used to keep the outlet from getting clogged up and to level out the bottom of the inside of the filter

  • Koi pond filter – also found at the hardware store in the outdoor garden center by the pond equipment. It was the most expensive piece @ $10. This is used to keep the sand in the filter, and also does some large particle filtering – hair and whatnot

  • Optional – a pack of terry cloths, about $2.50. I used them mainly for additional protection from the sand coming out and also to prevent the Koi pond filters from getting clogged up with sand.

Here are the step-by-step pictures of the project as I constructed the filter. You’ll notice that I had already cut the hole and put the pipe fitting in the bucket at this point. Also, before the pipe fitting is installed you’ll need to drill a few holes in the top pipe fitting (the piece that is in the bucket when assembled, not sticking out of the bottom) for complete drainage.

The parts list

Wash the pea gravel to get all the dirt off and fill the bottom of the bucket with enough pea gravel to make it level with the top of the pipe connector (the one that you drilled holes into before assembling)

I put a terry cloth rag on top of the gravel, in an attempt to make cleanup easier later

The Koi pond filter comes in two pieces, the denser one goes in at this point (it’s like a scrubber pad). These should have been cut to fit the bucket, but I was impatient and wanted to try it out

I put another terry cloth on top of that – this is important to help keep the sand out of the filter as much as possible

Put about 4″ of sand on top and level it out

Then another terry cloth, if you want to

Then the other half of the Koi pond filter

Then I threw on another terry cloth on top of all that. Now it’s time for the test. It’s best if you let clean water run through it for a few minutes to clean out all the dirt that needs to be washed out of the filter initially. It’s like a carbon filter for your refrigerator that also needs to have water run through it before it can be used. In hindsight I should have washed the pebbles before putting them in the filter, but it’s a lesson learned. Here’s my initial test run. The pipe fitting fits perfectly into the opening on the barrel it’s sitting on in the picture:

I suppose a disclaimer is in order. This filter is for NON-potable water only! Do not drink it.

Which is greener?

Posted by admin on Aug 28th, 2008
Aug 28

I’ve been wondering lately, which is greener – to use a paper cup for beverages or to use a reusable ceramic mug? I know conventional environmental thinking is to use the ceramic mug since it’s not cutting down trees and being dumped in a landfill (at least not after the first use). But, since water is such a precious resource then is it worse to throw a bio-degradable cup away, or to use the 8oz of water to clean the mug? Which is more valuable in the end?

Just a thought.

Some of the things I’ve done so far

Posted by admin on Apr 7th, 2008
Apr 7

This post is a very high level view and, admittedly, a bit long. It’s meant to lay out what I’ve done so far, and do it as briefly as possible so it’s not a horribly long read. I will elaborate at a later date on most of the projects listed below, but for now it’s just a listing of things I’ve done.

My main focus up to this point has been on reducing the amount of electricity our house uses. There have been a lot of things I’ve tried to mitigate our usage and it seems to be working so far.

I live in Los Angeles and my bi-monthly electric bill has been as high as $550 in the summer. It’s a little 1250 sqft house with two adults, one kid, two dogs, a cat and a pool. So where is all the electricity going? While I can’t say what exactly uses the most electricity in our house, I target things I know will greatly reduce our usage. I’ve replaced most of our high usage incandescent lights with compact fluorescent lights – like in the office, the living room, and the outdoor lights. I’ve installed a programmable thermostat and have adjusted it probably as far as I can. The heat in the winter is set to come on at 65 and in the summer the AC is set to come on at 81. Those settings have been working out pretty well so far. So far this year, when I know it’s going to be a warm day, I leave the doors open in the morning to capture as much of the cool morning air as possible and then close up all the doors when I think it’s starting to warm up. I’ve installed a gable fan – which has helped considerably, put ceiling fans in almost every room, put up bamboo blinds in our sun room (which is the hottest room in the house), and close the doors to our bedrooms which are on the hottest side of the house. Due to all of these adjustments we haven’t used more than 30 minutes of AC in the last three weeks – and we’ve seen temperatures in the high 80’s. That’s huge. I attribute most of that to the gable fan but all of these changes have contributed of course.

While investigating the attic I found that there are several places where we have no insulation, or at best about 2 inches of insulation. Of course I’m planning on fixing that, but the gable fan will at least keep most of the heat flowing out. We also don’t have any ridge vents so before the gable fan there was no good way for the heat to find a way out on its own so it would be like an oven heating up the living spaces. I have no idea how prior owners survived in this house in the summers! I’m hoping to be able to blow in insulation myself next weekend. Lowe’s rents a hopper/blower and sells the recycled insulation to use with it. The deal is pretty good – the first 24 hours of the rental is free with the purchase 20 bales of insulation and then only $20 a day for the next three (max is 4 day rental). I’ve calculated that we need almost exactly 50 bales so it won’t be a problem meeting the 20 bale criteria. It’s going to cost about $550 total when I’m done but it will save hundreds a year, if not more.

Now I’m starting to focus more on water consumption. I installed gutters on the garage and put a rain barrel in place. I bought three of them off of Craigs List for $15 each almost a year ago and am finally utilizing them. They are old pickle barrels so they are perfectly suited for water retention (i.e. food grade – although the water they collect should not be consumed by anything other than plants!). I’m going to put up the rest of the gutters on the back of the house (gutters are oddly lacking on most houses in SoCal) and use another rain barrel there. I’m siphoning My wife and son’s bath water about once a week into another rain barrel for foliage irrigation. The other thing I’m doing to conserve water is to capture the water in the tub that runs while I’m waiting for the hot water to reach the faucet. I take a 5 gallon bucket, put it under the tap and let it run until I feel the hot water. This averages around 2-2.5 gallons, which is perfect for watering the potted plants.

And finally, recycling. Los Angeles has the best recycling program that I’m aware of. It’s great because there’s no need to distinguish between the different plastic types which takes out the confusion and a lot of the effort. Even the worst plastics – numbers 3 and 5 – can be thrown into the blue recycling bin (**according to Most places only allow 1 and 2 to be put in the bin, so then you need to figure out what to do with the other 5 types. There are places that will take them but you need to search for them. Please do – a little initial effort to locate these recycling facilities on your part will do a lot for the future of the environment. If you just decide the effort isn’t worth it and throw it away, then it ends up in a land fill, leaches into the ground water system and then ends up in the water out of the tap.

I hope these posts will be useful to someone. I’ve found that once I started doing one or two things to improve our electricity consumption or water usage then it became a bit easier to be conscious and even a little addictive. I look at things a bit differently because of all this and I’m seeing noticeable results from my actions.

In the next few weeks I’m going to be adding a links section, an environmental “code” page to describe things like what the different recycling numbers mean on plastic and other such information, and some pictures of my projects.

If you have any questions or comments then feel free to leave them. Comments will need to be approved by me, or you can send me an email to webmaster at this domain.