Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My number one super-enviro soap box!

I think it should be illegal to flush toilets and urinals with potable water (for all new construction).

We have already seen conflict between states on water rights issues and if you think energy is a nasty environmental crisis, chew on this: we can live with less energy – or none if we have to – but we are going to be in really bad shape if we have to start fighting over drinking water.

As more jurisdictions start to struggle with water issues, projects design teams and owners are looking into water saving fixtures which is a really economical way to achieve big environmental impact. Yes, there are bigger water guzzlers out there than buildings, but you don’t have to be one of them.

Everybody should be doing it:

A good first start is to use a lot less water in your building, ultra low flush urinals (.125 gallon per flush) and water-free urinals may require minor renovation, but any project can switch out the flush valves on their wall mounted WCs for dual flush valves. These cost about $15-20 each, take only a few minutes to install and will pay for themselves in less than a year through water and sewage savings. If you have never used one before, these are a great alternative to low flush toilets because you still get a full flush when you push the lever down (solid flush), and only a half flush when you push the lever up (liquid flush). The full-flush capability helps allay maintenance worries and it provides building occupants an opportunity to participate in the ‘greening’ process of the building.

Faucets are another great opportunity as aerators are pretty inexpensive. If you have the means, sensors and timers can also reduce consumption. There are some really stellar showerheads on the market these days that aerate the water so that you get a full pressure shower experience with flow rates in the 1.5 and 1.75 range.

Through smart selection of fixtures, building can save over 50% of their potable water use for sewage conveyance. Look at your water and sewer bill and do the math.

The next step:

So maybe you don’t think you could treat your own sewage on site but more and more projects are investing in this effort, such as the Solaire, a 293-unit residential building in New York City. The entire water treatment system, designed by American Water’s Applied Water Management Group, has a footprint of just over 2,000 sf and treats 25,000 gallons per day. Proof that projects can address sewage treatment even in dense urban environments (NYC).

One particularly beautiful way to treat sewage is through Eco-Machines – organic landscape elements that serve as on-site water treatment systems. Recently featured at Greenbuild, John Todd Ecological Design is able to restore natural environments as well as treat effluence (http://www.toddecological.com/). They have also incorporated an agricultural element into some projects – very interesting.

Also check out Pliny Fisk’s Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (http://www.cmpbs.org/) – they have a beautiful living machine that treats sewage on site.

Natural Systems International worked with the Sidwell Friends School to create a constructed wetland that treats all their sewage on site and reduces potable water use by 90%. It also incorporates stormwater retention (with beautiful rain chains to channel water down the side of the building) and a biology pond for student learning. The Sidwell Friends School offers more proof that you can treat sewage on site in a dense urban environment (Washington DC): http://www.sidwell.edu/about_sfs/greenbuilding.asp.

There are beautiful examples of beautiful, natural water treatment systems that enhance the aesthetic and functional appeal of building projects. I would love to hear about others if anyone can refer me to them.



If It's Yellow Let it Mellow said...

I was talking to my inlaws about dual flush toilets at thanksgiving dinner (maybe not a great food time conversation given that you have to reference #1 and #2)...they basically said that they wouldn't consider using them, that it was a stupid idea. Now I'm not sure if this was just to get under my skin, or what, but still....how do we convince people that this isn't a terrible idea, and in fact is a very good one?!

Green-A said...

Well, I think people are more used to dual flush toilets in a commercial application than residential - and in commercial applications if people choose not to use them then they just flush the lever down the same way they normally would and they will get a full flush. So they won't be saving any water themselves but others will still have the choice to do so. In contrast to low-flow models, dual flush toilets offer choice - which is one of the reasons they are so popular.

In residential applications, you have two buttons instead of an up-or-down lever. I am not sure why anyone would be dead-set against using one of these, but a low-flow option can also achieve water savings. If you have a perfectly good toilet and don't want to go out to buy a new one, you can change your existing model into a low-flow through displacement (and for free!), such as illustrated here: http://www.wikihow.com/Convert-Any-Toilet-to-a-Low-Flush-Toilet

If you're interested in converting your residential toilet into a system that reuses grey water from your sink to flush the toilet (after it is cleaned, of course), look here at WaterSaver Technologies Aqus system: http://www.watersavertech.com/AQUS-Diagram.html

In terms of reasoning with your in-laws, hopefully they have seen some of the conflicts already occuring in states like Arizona, Nevada, Georgia etc. where potable water supply -and lack thereof - has become a big issue. Ask them if they really think it would be okay to run out of drinking water because we used it all up to flush sewage down the toilet. And if they can't imagine running out of potable water, I would remind them that whether they think global warming is caused by humans or not, we do have data to support climate change is occurring. And the rising of temperatures is melting the potable water supplies for many regions (such as the Pacific northwest which rely on snowpack in the Cascades) and many coastal cities are facing a potable water supply that will be under sea level when that level rises, and therefore contaminated and undrinkable.

Just because it seems infinite (like oil!) doesn't mean that it is.

So it makes sense to conserve drinking water primarily for drinking and eating only and to flush the toilet with water that we don't need to conserve.

Anonymous said...


I just went thru your fabulous cyber space and I am amazed at your mind.

I'd like to get in touch with you regarding a project that I have right now with regards to a Green Building - its in the design phase and if its ok - I'd like you to work as the Green Consultant on this project.

Do let me know?

You can write me at bobbydamenon@gmail.com or bobby@newgenimaging.com

Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you.

My best to you


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