Wastewater Wantwater

It is difficult thinking up really good titles for posts. If the title doesn’t explain things this will. This post is about how to irrigate your garden or water your plants without taxing one of our most precious resources.

First off I have to say that using fresh drinking quality water to water your lawn/grass is in my opinion a big waste. I am not saying you cannot have grass. We have grass in our yard. We have more grass than I would like, but it came with the house and it is hard to get rid of. We do not irrigate our lawn. It turns brown in the winter and occasionally in the spring when there is no rain, like right now. It has not rained for over two weeks where I live. So consider where you live, how much rainfall you get and what kind of ground cover is best suited to your region. Sometimes, rocks are the best ground cover.

If you just have to have a lawn that needs irrigation then the least you should do is have a grey-water system installed. All the water from your shower, bath and laundry can be diverted to a tank to water your grass. Some municipalities even offer this as an option to hook up to. If you cannot hook up to a grey-water system and you do have a sprinkler system, then use it to its fullest potential. Do not water when it is raining. Water only once a week. Test your system to see how long it takes to fill a tuna can with one inch of water. Only run the system for that long each week. Many people over water their lawns. Use less or no fertilizer and leave your grass long, say 3 inches tall to keep it lush and healthy. It retains the moisture better that way.

If you have a garden, be water wise. Know how often you need to water. Know which plants need more water. Also, water at the right time of day. Our utility prohibits watering from 10AM to 4PM. This is when the water is most likely to evaporate the fastest. Overhead sprinkling is probably the most inefficient method. A lot of the water can be lost into the dry air.  Here are some articles on watering. http://www.doityourself.com/scat/watering

Prepare your soil at the beginning of the season to hold the water longer. Mulch the surface of the beds to help retain the moisture. Using drip irrigation or soaker hoses uses up to 50% less water than overhead sprinklers. Drip irrigation can be specifically designed to water each plant as opposed to the whole garden which would include the paths. Unless your paths are a walkable ground cover, they don’t need watering. Here is a great article on using grey-water in your vegetable garden. http://www.umassgreeninfo.org/fact_sheets/plant_culture/gray_water_for_gardens.html  

The biggest take home message I got from that article is don’t water root crops or leafy greens with grey-water. Also rotate between grey and fresh. There are guidelines on how much to use and what not to put into the water to begin with.

No matter how much rainwater you get annually, I think a rain barrel is a fantastic idea. There are plenty of places to buy really expensive ones or you can make one fairly cheaply.  This site http://www.cityfarmer.org/rainbarrel72.html  has a wealth of information on rainwater collection, rain barrels and irrigation.   We have several rain barrels that we use for irrigation as well as toilet flushing. Rainwater also is excellent for washing hair and clothing since it is naturally soft.     


Above is our rainwater collection system we currently use in the garden. We have a 26′ x 12′ shed with a metal and plastic roof. The rain gutter catches the water and diverts it to the first barrel. My brilliant husband figured out that the water would automatically syphon from one barrel to the next with a piece of garden hose that reaches from the bottom of one barrel to the bottom of the next. The hoses have to be filled with water, pinched off in the middle then shoved quickly into each barrel. Takes two people. Also the barrels have to have and maintain enough water to keep the ends of the hoses covered with water, otherwise the syphon action is disrupted. We did it this way because for the short term it was easier than connecting all the barrels together and elevating them to drain one into another. The last barrel is an open garbage can for dipping my watering can into.


These are pictures of rainwater collection up near the house. My daughter is transferring water from a full container into empty ones. She has a lot of fun doing this. We try to collect as much water as we possibly can since this time of year can be very dry. You do have to watch the barrels for mosquito larvae and empty those barrels sooner or use a net to scoop them out and feed them to your fish. Covering the container can prevent the mosquito from laying her eggs in the water in the first place.


On not wasting water while bathing

According to this study http://www.princeton.edu/~perc/Percchap6.htm done at Princeton, Students took 12.5 minute showers. If the showers were fitted with the current required 2.5 gallon/minute shower head, the water usage would be 31.25 Gallons per shower. The Princeton study was done because not all their dorm showers had low flow shower heads. Some used as much as 4.25gallons/min which for a 12.5 minute shower translates to 53.125 gallons per shower. The author of the study hoped to show how much money could be saved by switching all shower heads to low flow. Quite a bit it turns out.

At this site http://www.sustainableabq.com/water_tips.htm I copied the following:

The following is a simple bathroom tip to reduce your utility bills. Take showers instead of baths, but limit the length of the showers to five minutes. A typical bathtub requires about 30 gallons for a bath. A standard shower head will flow about 3 gallons per minute. In five minutes, this uses only 15 gallons of water.

Install a low-flow shower head with a sudsing shut-off slide valve. Many common low-flow shower heads have them. While you are sudsing and scrubbing, the sudsing shut-off valve slows the water flow to a trickle. This trickle will maintain the water temperature adjustment and eliminate a shot of very hot or cold water when you slide it open again to rinse. Using a low-flow shower head with one of these valves can cut the total water usage to under ten gallons saving thousands of gallons of water per year.

So you can see, to save water, start by showering instead of bathing in a tub. Then make sure you shower head is low flow. You can see how much your shower uses by holding a bucket under it for one minute. Use a stop watch and get a friend to help if you need to. Use a five gallon bucket and remember water is heavy. If you wrap a washcloth around the shower head you wont have to hold the bucket. Once you know what your flow rate is, you can decide if you need a new head.  As mentioned above, a shut off button is really useful in saving water. If you are buying a new head, make sure it has the shut off.

The last thing to do is take a short shower.  Get wet, turn off the water, soap up, shampoo or otherwise wash hair, turn water on, rinse, condition or vinegar rinse if needed, rinse again and you are done. Three minute shower at 2.5 gallons per minute is 7.5 gallons. Not bad.

Want to do better than that? We take bucket baths at our house. It became necessary for us to do it that way because we set up a makeshift water heater outside.

solar water haeterIt does not connect to the house or shower. So we fill up five gallon buckets with however much water we want according to how hot it is.

bucket for bathingIt can get up to 140F. In that case I only fill to about 2 gallons and carry it in to the shower. I fill it with two  more gallons or to the right temperature. Then I use a one quart plastic container to ladle the water over my head. I find four gallons to be plenty. This is not fun to do in the winter, but then again our solar water heater does not work so well then either. Any day now we will be having our makeshift one replaced with a modern technical solar water heater which will allow us to have solar hot water to all parts of the house.

collection bin  Recently I started standing in this plastic bin to catch the water so we could recycle it as toilet flushing water.

   bathing tubWe use this metal bin to bathe the kids outside. They really like it. They are still young. We can use the water on landscaping after it cools.

The only other tip I could mention is about bathing frequency. In our country it is fairly typical for people to bathe 1-2 times per day. Really think about how much bathing you need to do. Can you just freshen up a bit? Do you really need to wash your hair every day? I bathe twice a week in cooler months and 2-3 times a week in hotter months. If I am just sweaty I could rinse off in a gallon of water. Think about it.

Don’t waste the water

A comment I received from my last post has pushed me to write about how people waste water and how you can learn not to. Stephanie commented that she was impressed with our low water use and wanted to know how we did it. It would be a very long post to highlight all the things we do so I will break it up into segments. Clothes washing, bathing, irrigating, dish washing, toilets etc.

If you want to learn how to save water or to not waste it, take a day and look at where all the water goes. At the same time, imagine what would be different if you had to haul that water in five gallon buckets from a lake stream or river in your back yard. I think what confuses people is that it can be so difficult to comprehend how much water each activity really uses.

One of the biggest water users can be the washing machine. Top loaders can use 40-60 gallons per load. Some families wash 400 loads a year. If you wash a load a day at 40 gallons per day, that is 1200 gallons a month.  A front loader can cut the water use in half. If you cannot get a front loader then wash clothes less often. Many items of clothing do not need to be washed after one wearing. Pants, sweaters and pajamas for example. Towels can be used more than once. Rethink how often your sheets need washing. Use or wear things longer than normal to save the number of loads you need to wash.

         frontloader                        washer greywater

For those who want to go beyond the norm to save water while doing laundry, see if you have the option of saving laundry water to flush toilets, water trees or other landscape plants. There is a long flexible tube at the back of your washer that discharges the water to the sewer or septic. If you pull the tube out of the pipe you can insert it into another pipe to redirect the flow. We are able to stick our tube though a window and have the water run down a pipe into a garbage can. We do not have a basement. The washer is level with the ground outside. Our front loader, when washing a full load, uses about 25-30 gallons of water. It fills our garbage can. We use a biodegradable soap and use the water to irrigate our corn and fruit trees. If I used two containers and were paying attention, I could collect the rinse water in a separate container and reuse it to wash the next load.

If you want to go even a step farther, I have heard of people who shower with the drain plugged, and then they throw the laundry in the tub to wash recycling the water. Then they haul it to the washer, spin the water off, do a rinse cycle and their done.

Our family of four, two adults and two small children, does an average of four loads a week. When I bring home clothes from the dumpster I wash them and it adds, on average, two loads per week. We are still able to only use about 16 gallons per person per day. Our goal is 10.

For today, just become aware of how much water you use on a daily basis for activities. Check back to find out how to save water bathing.


March Riot Update

I have had so much fun being a part of The Riot for Austerity/ 90% reduction project. The project started last June 1st and our family joined in July. There are a growing number of people all over the world, still joining this movement to help halt climate change. What are you willing to do to help save the world as we know it?

I finally have all my numbers for the month of March. As I stated last month, as part of The Riot For Austerity we usually figure up how we compare to the rest of the country in terms of consumption of resources. We are a family of four, living in the USA,  so our numbers are compared to the average American or average American household. There are seven categories.

Gasoline: We purchased 16.71 gallons in March. The average American uses 500 gallons of gas per year. So our a typical family of four would use 2000. Our use is 10.02% of average.    Our 10 month cumulative total is 209.91 gallons or 12.6 % of average. And as reported last month, this does not include the airline trips taken in November.

Electric: We used 225 Kwh from  March 15 to April 11. The average household uses 900 kwh/month so our usage is 25% of average.

Therms: We used 8 therms of natural gas from  March 15 to April 11. The average household uses 83.3 per month or 1000 therms over the season, since much of it is used for heating. We are using no gas heat, but do heat water and cook with gas. Our usage is 10% of average.

Garbage: We created 6.25 pounds of trash and 17 pounds of recyclables in March. Recyclables count 80% of trash so we are at 3.7% of average. The average person creates 4.5 pounds of garbage per day. A typical family of four would then produce 540 pounds of garbage per month. We have the smallest garbage can the city provides and we could go a whole month before our can was full. I put our trash out every two weeks.

Water: We used 2 kilogallon from March 15 to April 11. It went back up to 2 from 1. We have been at 2 Kg since last Oct. The average person uses 100 gallons of water per day. That is 400 gallons per day for a family of four and 12 Kg a month. Our 2 Kg is 16% of average.

Consumer Goods. We spent atleast $146.45 in March which would be 17.6% of average. We purchased a battery for our car and patterns for some planned wardrobe refashioning.  Everything was new this time so added to the expense. The average American household spends $10,000 a year or $833 a month.

Food: This category is always hard for me. I just guess what I think we eat and spend money on and then I double check what my husband thinks. I think it is the same as last month with local at 25%, bulk category at 45% and I think the wet, conventional, processed food is still at 30%. April is getting more local and May should be even better.

In summary our gas use increased slightly, Electric went up 2.5 percentage points, Nat gas use went down by 3 therms,steadily dropping since Dec.  Garbage has continued dropping and went from 4% to 3.7%. Water use increased by 50%, but I think it is more the way the meter is read than a true 50% increase in use. Consumer goods is higher because we needed a new battery for our car. And the food category is pretty much the same with a move in the right direction….towards local!    

Why don’t you take some time to look at your utility and gasoline bills, and see where you fall on the percentage chart. To make things even easier, there is a calculator on the Riot site that will figure things up for you. You don’t have to join the Riot, just become aware of how much of our planets finite resources you are using.                

42 ways to not make trash

Colin Bevin AKA No Impact Man is the person I credit with turning me around from being an armchair environmentalist to one who talks the talk and walks the walk. He had a light bulb moment over a year ago and decided to see if he could live a no impact life for a year. It was a gradual transition to get there and now that his year long project is done, he is deciding what he wants to continue doing. He is also becoming more politically involved.

His post on April 10th talks about what he and his wife have done to decrease the amount of trash they create on a daily basis. I thought it would be a useful thing to pass on and a great way to introduce you to a fascinating person.


Crunchy Chicken: Buy Nothing Challenge

Crunchy Chicken: Buy Nothing Challenge

Buy Nothing Challenge - April 2008




One of my favorite blogs is Crunchy Chicken. She has some really interesting challenges. We finished up the Freeze your buns challenge and now she is doing a buy nothing challenge. Since starting my challenge of not buying any clothing for a year, a month of buying nothing seems doable. We are allowed to buy food and other necessities like toilet paper, toothpaste and shampoo (if people still think they are necessary). Garden items and preplanned purchases are exempt. The month long challenge started on April 1st, but I was too busy shopping to post about it. Ha Ha.

I’ve actually been very busy getting my garden put in and I will post about that at a later time. So I really have not had time to buy much. I was even successful at deferring a purchase to my dear old mom. (HI mom) My daughter decided to sew a top and shorts for a 4-H project and she needed fabric. So my mom bought it. (Thanks Mom).

I do have purchases I want to make, namely a pressure canner and more jars. Really not to much else I want.

Anyone else up for not buying anything for the month of April? I’d even exempt the whole first week if you start today. You can sign up with Crunchy at her website or with me, or just do it on your own. Let me know if you want to participate.

Going Shopping

Yesterday I received my rebate check from the government, woo hoo. I am going shopping! I’m sending my kids to Disney for the day with my parents and I’m going to hit ALL the outlet stores in Orlando. Maybe we will rent a Hummer for the day to drive down there. Thanks for the cash George! I want to do my part for the economy. Spend, spend, spend! We don’t want a recession or even a depression. But what are we trying for? A procession? An excession? Oh who cares, lets buy shoes.