Over four decades ago, my mentor prophesized that “someday in your lifetime, water will be more valuable than oil.” In the face of my first “oil crisis” (waiting on line for an hour to pay a stratospheric $1.50/gallon for gasoline), his words struck me as lunacy.
During the ensuing forty years, we’ve learned to design and build homes that consume increasingly less energy. Passive and active technologies to harness sun and wind; energy efficient HVAC systems and appliances; new energy-saving building technologies have collectively enabled us to reduce our reliance on nonrenewable energy resources by as much as 100%.
But what about water? Reduced flow showerheads and toilets have been the extent to which many of us have given consideration to water conservation.
No more! (read on…)
A wake up call. The California drought may seem like someone else’s problem. But a recent segment of 60 Minutes hammered the point home for us all to understand: The planet's water supplies are rapidly being depleted. We are drilling wells into deep subterranean aquifers that cannot be replenished by rainwater or desalinization; and satellite thermography indicates that the major food-producing regions on every continent are feeding crops by depleting the earth's water at alarming rates. It’s the stuff that science fiction and wars are made of.
Let’s get our feet wet.
As a professional, I am beginning by educating myself and by discussing water conservation with every client, much like I do energy conservation.
And, like energy conservation, we can do a great deal with low tech tactics. An article in the June issue of Dwell (Modern World Q and A; pages 56-57) is a good place to begin. In the easy-to-understand article, water-harvesting expert Ed Beaulieu suggests some easy steps that can be part of every home building project. Simply put, Beaulieu suggests:
- Turn your yard into a natural oasis with an eco-system of rainwater capture, native plants, favorite vegetables, and a water feature that will become an important habitats for birds, bees, and other wildlife.
- Collect rainwater from your roof with a simple catchment system that includes a mechanical filter and pump.
- Estimate the volume of water running off your roof each year (figure 2000 gallons per inch of rain. That amounts to almost 80,000 gallons each year in both Seattle and Montauk)
- Plan your catchment water uses up to that volume.
- Keep the stored water fresh through aeration like a bubbling backyard water feature.
“A backyard water feature is not only good for local wildlife. While protecting aquatic resources, it creates a greater awareness of our environment, which is critical for the health of the oceans and the entire planet,” suggests Beaulieu
Appropriate uses for catchment system water include:
- Vegetable garden irrigation;
- Landscape irrigation (use plantings with modest irrigation needs) and water features;
- Water for seasonal deck, siding, and walkway cleaning;
- Swimming pool recharging;
- Reservoir for home fire sprinkler systems (required in many remote areas and even suburban locations;
- Water for toilets (toilet installation must be isolated from all fixtures using potable water) (4000 gallons/year per household); and
- Clothes washer water (typically 6000 gallons per year per household).
Conservation’s Cost Benefit Analysis
Catchment systems can be as small as 100 gallons but often have 2000-4000 gallon capacities. The stored water should be used and replaced with new rainwater several times per year.
Systems cost as little as a few hundred dollars to over $10,000 for larger capacity systems.
The value of rainwater recovery systems.
If your containment system reduces your paid municipal water consumption by 25% you can expect a 10-year payback on a $2500 system if you annual water bill is $1000, and on a $5000 system if your annual water bill is $2000.
However the value goes well beyond the monetary. It flows directly to our collective responsibility to conserve the world’s most valuable resource, water.
Just as the responsibility to conserve energy led to warmer brighter more comfortable homes, let’s take a similar approach and use water conservation to create a richer healthier Warmmodern Living Lindal home for living.