And keeping with the rainwater harvesting theme…

LA is considering setting mandatory regulations requiring all new houses (and other projects) to harvest rainwater.  Check out the treehugger.com article here.

Rainwater In My Washing Machine – FINALLY!

I am happy to report that we finally received approval to hook up (again) our washing machine to our rainwater harvesting system.  It’s been a 10 month ordeal of emailing and waiting and emailing and starting over and waiting (you get the picture). 

In my previous post I linked to the new Dallas rainwater harvesting guidelines.  Now I received the following from Mark Daniels, the acting Chief Plumbing Inspector, when I asked if an RPZ valve fulfilled the intent of the guidelines:

We find the “RPZ valve” acceptable for this individual case and consider, with your agreement and acceptance, that your required plumbing inspections are complete and this permit is in final status. There are no other actions required on your part.

There you have it!

PS:  mind you that I’ve had a plumbing inspection/permit since last April, so I really wasn’t waiting on a permit of any sort – just trying to do the right thing and pave the way for others who want to use rainwater in Dallas.

City of Dallas & Rainwater Use: What the heck is going on?

Dallas Logo

I’ve been extremely patient with the City of Dallas.  We have been trying to obtain the final regulation/code that governs the use of harvested rainwater in a washing machine for eight months.  Our rainwater contractor presented information to the City twice early this past spring.  And now, in January, it seems that we’re not any closer to having the regulations than we were in April of last year.

Lonnie Erwin, the City’s Chief Plumbing Inspector, informed me in an email back in August that we would have new regs “after October”.  While technically that could mean 10 years after October, I assumed it meant November-ish.  My last email to him (and to City of Dallas Chief Inspector Zaida Basora) dated 11/17 was answered in December by someone informing me that Mr. Erwin was no longer with the City of Dallas. 

I was also told that Mr. Erwin left behind ZERO information regarding our request and our presentations.  NO ONE had been working on our request for months!  Thank you, Mr. Erwin!

Theoretically someone from the City Plumbing Inspection office is working on the request now, but it’s been almost a month since I’ve heard from him.

What should I do now?!?!

Dallas Rainwater Harvesting Update (or non-update)

CisternsI wanted to provide an update to the People Newspaper post that I created a couple of months ago.

The situation in Dallas remains the same:  there are no rules that regulate the use of rainwater in clothes washing machines.  I was informed by Lonnie Erwin, the Dallas Chief Plumbing Inspector, that the regs won’t be ready until the new fiscal year starts in October.  I’ve got a note on my calendar to send him an email on 10/1!

PS:  the photo is of our two 2500 gallon cisterns on the side of the house.

Rainwater Harvesting – we’re trendsetters!

See this article posted on cnn.com today.

Dallas – Hurry Up Already!

dallasphoto04142009Dallas:  Big Hair, Big Cars, Big Egos….but apparently not big on getting ready for the Green Housing boom!

This past week has been an eye-opener.  We’ve gone through multiple conversations with the City of Dallas inspectors regarding our use of reclaimed rainwater for irrigation and for washing clothes.  We’ve had visits from Building Inspectors and Zoning personnel who have all admitted that they really don’t yet have a handle on how to manage many green building features.

As mentioned, we’re attempting to use our rainwater in our washing machine.  Our contractor set up our washing machine just as they had done for other customers in surrounding cities – all of which approved of those installations.  However, Dallas didn’t know what to think of it!  The Inspector first wanted a separate “double check back flow valve” (or something like that), then he didn’t understand the filtration system.  Finally, they told us that they were not going to approve the use of reclaimed rainwater for the washing machine.  We were told to dismantle the water delivery mechanism and try later when they were ready to tell us what they would approve.

While our Rainwater Harvesting contractor made a huge mistake by not clearing the use of the system BEFORE it was entirely installed (lesson learned!), the City of Dallas is clearly not ready yet for innovative Green building techniques.

We’ll reconnect the washing machine when the City catches up to us – and I suppose this whole ordeal is the price we’re paying for being on the cutting edge (at least in Dallas, anyway) of Green building!

PVC Is Evil!

hdpe2-symbolThis was a new learning for me recently.  We used PVC for our sewer and french drain systems without knowing the evils of PVC.   Once we got ourselves educated we quickly moved to have our Rainwater Harvesting and irrigation company to adjust our quote to include using HDPE rather than PVC (in our gutter downspouts, our rainwater harvesting pipes, and our irrigation pipes).  I’m still waiting on the price differential, but will let you know when I get the adjusted bid.

So what’s so wrong with PVC?  According to besafenet.com,

“Our bodies are contaminated with poisonous chemicals released during the PVC lifecycle, such as mercury, dioxins, and phthalates, which may pose irreversible life-long health threats.  When produced or burned, PVC plastic releases dioxins, a group of the most potent synthetic chemicals ever tested, which can cause cancer and harm the immune and reproductive systems.”

While I wasn’t expecting to burn my PVC, the fact that it leaches mercury and dioxins into water and soil makes me never want to touch it again!  AND, PVC can’t be recycled while HDPE can be recycled and is typically made from 50% recycled materials to start with. 

So what are the alternatives?  There are several listed here.   Do your research and avoid PVC!

Rainwater Harvesting

I mentioned in earlier posts that we’re going to be harvesting our rainwater.  I wanted to do a small deep dive into this subject because it’s such a new Green concept.  Our contractor is [NAME OF CONTRACTOR DELETED ON 5/18/09] – they’re the premier rainwater harvesting company in North Texas.

I will touch on a couple of topics:

How much water do we think we can get?  We’re collecting from our entire roof, which is roughly 2900 square feet.  The accepted calculation is that 1 inch of rain on every 1000 square feet of roof yields 600 gallons.  So for every 1 inch of rain, we’ll collect about 1740 gallons.  We are installing two 2500 gallon cisterns, so a good 3 inches of rain and we’ll be full!

How much does it cost?  The quote we got from our rainwater harvesting contractor was about $8800, but keep in mind that includes not only the downspouts, plumbing and cisterns, but also a filter/purification system that will enable us to use the rainwater in our washing machine, too.  We’re paying for gutters separately.

How much will we save?  Our former yard was almost entirely Saint Augustine grass.  We were watering every second day during the summer and at least twice a week during the winter.  Our water bills were anywhere from $200-$300/month.  We expect to save anywhere between $100-$200/month between having a drought-friendly landscape and using rainwater.  With a fairly conservative guess of $150/month, the rainwater harvesting system will be paid off in about 5 (or less) years.  Not a bad Green investment!

How is it put together?  Basically the gutters are installed first.  Then our contractor places the 4″ downspouts.  The downspouts run from the roofline, into the ground, across the property and up into the cisterns.  As long as the cisterns are below the roofline, gravity will feed the water into the cisterns.  Of concern with these systems are leaves and other roof debris.  We’re using a foam insert in our gutters – the idea being that the water soaks into the gutter while the leaves, etc stay on top and get washed off.  There is a filter into the cistern, and another going out of the cistern.  There is a pump that we’re installing in our crawlspace that feeds both the irrigation system and the washing machine.  Before the water goes into the washing machine, it goes through a very fine filter and then through an ultraviolet purifier.  If the cistern gets too low, a valve opens to fill the cistern with city water.  Our washing machine will be set up to be able to switch between cistern and city water…so we’re not stuck without the ability to wash clothes!  The cisterns also have an overflow into the landscape in the event we get too much rain and the cisterns are full.

Aesthetics.  Our cisterns are being installed above ground.  Obviously having them installed below ground would solve the aesthetics problem.  However, in our installation we have a side of the house that is fully utility – it will house the two cisterns, two air conditioning units and the electrical box.  It will be fenced in and hidden from the entertainment portions of the house and the neighbors.  So, for us there’s no aesthetics issue.  There is a house outside of Dallas that has a 10,000 gallon cistern in the backyard.  Some designers see it as a Green architectural design feature while others have criticized it as too much exposed utility.  Decide for yourself here:

We’re told that maintenance on the system is infrequent and simple.  Does anyone with a rainwater harvesting system agree or disagree?

Water Efficiency (LEED WE Category)

I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that Water Efficiency is a LEED category.  The Water Efficiency category addresses both indoor and outdoor water usage.  A portion of our outdoor water story will be addressed in a separate post – we’re utilizing a rainwater harvesting system that direct 100% of the rainwater that hits our roof to cisterns.  Look for that post in a few days.

I’ll address our outdoor water usage first.  The irrigation portion of our outdoor water story is simple.  We’re installing a high-end, very efficient irrigation system that will have about 10-14 zones.  We are directing water exactly where we need it and not watering where we don’t.  There are several requirements to achieve points for your irrigation system, some of which are fairly typical installation methods, but some are not.  A sample follows – (there are 11 and you get a point for each that you use up to a maximum of 3 points):

  • Install an irrigation system designed by an EPA Water Sense certified professional.
  • Install a central shut-off valve.
  • Use drip irrigation for at least 50% of the landscape planting beds to minimize evaporation
  • Check valves in heads.

However, we’re not going for points based on the irrigation system itself.   Fortunately for us, our Landscape Architect is installing a drought-friendly front and back yard that reduces our irrigation demand by 66%.  Yes, 66%.  The calculation that appears on page 50 of the LEED for Homes Rating System is daunting (fortunately, our Landscape guy did the calculation for us, and I’m attaching it here–>irrigationcalculationwe23).  We will be getting the full 4 points in the WE2 category!  NOTE:  a reduction in irrigation demand makes you eligible for points in the Sustainable Sites category which I addressed in a prior post).

Indoor water use is the second key component of the WE category.  It’s pretty obvious that the lower flow your plumbing fixtures, the higher the points.  So we’ve installed 3 really groovy dual-flush toilets in all the baths except the studio bath (but that’s a low flow, too).  And we’re trying going with very high efficiency faucets in the baths as well (defined as <1.5gpm).

I will say this about low flow plumbing fixtures:  it’s hard to get very high efficiency fixtures in very modern and stylish designs.  As an example, here’s our choice for our bath faucets (flow rate of 2.2gpm), but to get them down to “very high efficiency” (<1.5gpm), we have to add in low-flow aerators – they just don’t make the faucets “very high efficiency” without the use of an aerator.  AND it took us a bit of an effort for Kohler to give us information about the aerator’s impact on the flow rates.

I will confess an eco-sin here:  I love showers, and I couldn’t bring myself to use a high efficency/low flow shower head in my master bath.  I love the water too much!  We gave up a point because of this, and I hope I don’t live to regret it!

Our plumbing fixture budget wasn’t enough to cover our choices, but that’s because we went a little higher end than originally anticipated, not because we had any Green choices that upped the cost.

Expected Water Efficiency points:  9 out of a possible 15.

Sustainable Sites (LEED SS Category)

As I mentioned before, our lot is what sold the original house – we love it.  It’s about .4 acres and very deep (about 250 feet deep).  LEED awards points for taking care of the land and preparing it to be water-wise and safe.  Here’s how the points worked for us:

We’re required to do basic erosion control during construction.  We investigated using burlap and shredded wood, but were told that the City of Dallas inspectors didn’t like that method, so we went with traditional plastic with wooden stakes.  We weren’t thrilled, but given the fits the inspectors had already given us during the foundation phase of the project we decided not to tempt fate further.

There are several points for basic landscaping design and techniques.  We have a landscape architect, Jim Martinez, engaged in the project who has a ton of experience with drought-friendly yards.   He was able to design the yard using native and adapted plants.  The LEED calculation lead us to expect a 66% reduction in irrigation demand, and that gave us a whopping 6 points.  That’s a lot in LEED-speak!  We left one point on the table – a point that would have required us to remove a large privet hedge.  I know some folks would pay money to get rid of their privets, but these had been on this property for more than 50 years.  They house the breeding site for our lightening bugs, provide cover for birds and other wildlife, and provide a year-round noise cushion between us, the neighbor’s pool, and Love Field traffic.  We just couldn’t bring ourselves to rip them out. 

French Drain installation

Other points can be earned by managing surface water.  Here are some of the design features we used to avoid as much stormwater runoff as possible:

  • Rainwater falling on 100% of our roof will be directed into two 2500 gallon cisterns to be used for irrigation and clothes washing.  I’ll talk more about this feature in a later post…we’re very excited about it!
  • Swales (or berms) in the back and front yard to create rainwater gardens that will capture and hold rainwater while it soaks into the ground.
  • French drains (being installed in the photo above) to direct water from the uphill side of the property around the structures and into the swales.  
  • Driveway runners versus a full concrete driveway – we’re creating concrete ribbons for our front yard drive with grass growing in between.  These look a bit old-fashioned, but they create a space for more rainwater percolation versus the rainwater running into the street.
  • Permiable driveway in the back of the house – it will be gravel so rainwater will soak directly into the ground versus running off of a concrete drive.
  • Patios made of poured concrete pads with space between them (versus solid slabs) to allow rainwater to run between them and soak into the ground
  • A lot of trees and bushes being added into the landscape to hold the dirt and reduce natural erosion

Other points we’re getting are for using non-toxic pest controls – things like making sure you don’t plant new plants within 24″ of the structures (we actually have a 24-36″ band of gravel around the structures, so no plants will be planted close to the house or garage) and sealing all openings with calk or wire mesh. 

We didn’t earn points for “Compact Development”.  The denser the population the less impact on Mother Nature, so LEED provides credit for denser developments.  Because we live in an area with lot sizes from .25 to 1.25 acres we were just out of luck.  To be eligible for points, you’re required to have a maximum lot size equivalent of 1/7 of an acre (and the smaller the better)….oh well!

Expected Sustainable Sites points:  16 out of a possible 22.