The Low Down On Green Living
May 28th, 2008
I’m often pleasantly surprised at how much interest and passion you (our visitors) display for water-saving technologies. Renewable energy is sexy, and eco-friendly cars are top-of-mind for most people these days, but graywater systems? Rain barrels? Rain gardens? Even water-conserving toilets and showerheads? They’re pretty hot too … I for one am thrilled, for not only have I spent a good part of my career designing stormwater treatment systems but I believe that water shortages are a pretty pressing and difficult environmental challenge that doesn’t get enough attention in these days of $4 gasoline and global warming.
The beauty of any of these water-saving technologies is that a) they achieve multiple benefits, saving water while reducing wastewater or stormwater runoff and b) you can see the results right at home. It’s pretty satisfying to open the valve on a rain barrel, see the water flow out and know that you reduced pollution downstream and also prevented water from being siphoned from lakes or rivers tens or hundreds of miles away.
There are some challenges, though. In order to really make a dent in your runoff, you might have to use ten or more rain barrels - not so great if you don’t have space or your downspouts are on the visible side of your house (or if you’re not Ed Begley Jr and just don’t care!). Cisterns give you more capacity, but you’re talking about a real construction project with some possible permitting hurdles.
I recently saw another solution at a green show here in LA - the Rainwater Pillow, designed by Jim Harrington, a landscape designer in the Atlanta area. It’s basically a big flat rubber bag that allows you to store and then reuse rainwater for landscape purposes. The beauty of the system is that the pillows have capacities ranging from 1,000 up to 40,000 gallons, can be installed as a DIY project on Saturday afternoon , flatten out when not filled, and can be easily located in that unused space in your basement or crawlspace, out of sight but protected. They come with all of the prefilters, pumps, tubing and fittings needed to connect it to your drainage and irrigation systems, and also with a remote control so you can operate the pump from anywhere nearby.
I had some concerns at first. Rodent damage? Check - very strong materials used. How about stagnation / septic issues with the water? Check - very simple process using household bleach deals with that. How about freezing? Check - safe by design down to -30 degrees (except for pump and fittings, which must be protected). Cost? That’s where a little bit of “ouch” creeps in - they are a bit pricey (starting at $2,500 list price, although I’d hope there might be some negotiating room in these difficult economic times). They won’t pay for themselves anytime soon at that price, but if you’re considering graywater systems, cisterns or an army of rain barrels then you’re already thinking of making a substantial investment.
Other folks think they’re pretty swell too - This Old House just listed them as one of the greatest new green products.
We haven’t seen one in action yet, but some day I will have one of these at my home … and I’ll fall asleep knowing the rain is being squirreled away in my own rainy-day pillow.
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