Cleaning The Roof Washers

I forced myself to take some time over the holiday weekend to get some chores done outside. I cut the grass and weeds around the yard so we can walk around out there again. And I planted the lavender plants finally. Harvested some veggies too.

For all the trouble I had two ticks attached to me in as many days. Gross.

One other task I finally got off my list was cleaning the roof washers on top of the cistern. You’re supposed to clean them every six months. This is the first time I’ve attempted to clean them in the two years we’ve lived here. I’m not one for maintenance I guess. As I said, maintenance is for people who have time on their hands.

The water’s been tasting funny lately so I figured I’d better take a look. Honestly, the water still tastes funny after cleaning them so that may not necessarily be the problem. Well none of us has developed a brain parasite yet so I guess all is well. Maybe a raccoon died inside the cistern itself.

For the un-initiated, the roof washers are big fiberglass boxes that sit upon the cistern and filter all the rain water coming off of the roof. The water flows through a wire screen to take out any pieces of leaves or whatnot. Then the water collects in a big space beyond these screens and slowly filters through a big cotton like filter and down into a pipe that empties into the cistern.

Here’s a good diagram so you’ll kind of know what I’m talking about (click here).

(I don’t know why we have two roof washers, but maybe because of our roof size, or maybe one is a “pre-filter”. I guess I should know.)

Well when I opened them up I could see all kinds of muck and moss and stuff growing in there, which probably isn’t good for anyone’s health. It being two years since I was given my washer cleaning lesson I was sort of winging it. It turned out to be mildly gross but simple enough job; taking about two hours to perform.

First off I pulled out the screens from both washer boxes. They were clogged, but easily hosed off and set in the sun to dry and be sterilized by natural UV rays.

Next I pulled the cotton like filters, in their wire mesh cages. Some of the tops of the filters were blown off. Not sure why, but maybe that happened last year when the drain pipe was clogged during the big rain storm. Anyway, I pulled the filters and all the ancillary component and washed them off with a hose by the driveway. I pulled out the filter elements and unrolled them. With the hose on “jet” mode I rinsed them off and laid them out to dry a little in the sun as well.

(As I’m writing this, I guess I should actually replace the filters, so I’ll call around tomorrow to see where I get those at. Even after cleaning they’re pretty gross still.)

I pulled the bottom plates out of the washer as well. The one had a whole ecosystem growing on it. But everything cleaned up nicely.

(I guess I should have hosed the inside out too, or something like that. I know the pipe going into the cistern has some muck in it. Like I said though, we haven’t gotten any brain parasites or diarrhea yet so I bet it’s all good. I mostly drink beer these days for hydration, just to be safe though.)

I then reinstalled everything in reverse order and we should be good for another two years….er, six months.

I even bought some tan-colored UV protecting spray paint for the top of the fiberglass washer boxes. Sunlight degrades raw fiberglass so it helps to paint the panels. I was supposed to do that two years ago too. Better late than never right? I’m not sure why they just don’t paint them in the factory, but probably no one thought to do that. Now that I have the paint I bet I’ll have them painted by this time next year.

Elsewhere, not much going on. I’ve given up on the tadpole puddle in the driveway. We got a second batch of tadpoles, but the puddle is rapidly evaporating. We need rain. I can’t stay ahead of the disappearing water.

The bees are doing great. We purchased our extracting equipment but have not found the time to assemble it and start extracting honey. I need to get wood to make a solar melter soon as well. Exciting. We’ll be selling honey soon enough. I guess the going price per pound now, retail, is over $6. I’d guess we’ve got between 30-50 lbs of honey waiting to be extracted.

All three hives have queens, so everyone in need has re-queened themselves already this year. Hive No. 2 is very aggressive compared to docile hive No. 3 (the white hive I call it because their comb and honey is pure as driven snow). I had my black gloves on and must’ve been stung ten times. I finally had to take a time out and change gloves to get the bees off of me. Dark hive No. 1 has an awesome new queen who’s laid a ton of eggs and they are making honey at a fast rate.

Okay, here are tonight’s pics. Enjoy.

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Water Supply From The Sky

[Writer’s note: this is an article I wrote last year but was never published. I wanted to share it with my loyal readers. I hope you enjoy. Rainwater harvesting is fascinating and can be utilized anywhere there is precipitation i.e. everywhere on the planet.]

Living with the convenience of “city” water for over thirty years I was a bit apprehensive when my wife and I bought a little piece of rural paradise upon which to build our new family home. As far as I knew there was only one option for our water supply: a well, drilled deep into the ground pulling up water from the earth. As far as I knew a well meant smelly, slimy, water and iron stained plumbing fixtures. I was not looking forward to a lifetime of well water, but the land was so nice I was willing to sacrifice.

We soon discovered that the area of our new land was not a great place to get a reliable water supply from the earth.  So we had to find another source. The only other real option was to get a cistern, which is a large waterproof vault that holds water. Cisterns have been providing safe drinking water to humans for thousands of years. I immediately liked the idea because it meant no sulfur smelling water or toilet rings.

There are three ways to fill a cistern. We could pay a water hauling company to truck in water. Another option is to use the cistern in tandem with a well, the idea being that the cistern would keep ample water available from even a slow producing replenishment well. Lastly the cistern can be filled with free harvested rainwater from the sky. We wanted our new home to be as environmentally sustainable as possible so we decided to go with harvesting.

With the collection decision made, I needed to do some research.  Foremost I needed to know how much water we’d use and therefore need to collect. The U.S. EPA website estimates about 300 gallons per day per family[1] (109,500 gallons per year). Our goal was to solely rely on rainwater as our supply. If we hit a drought (in the heat of summer or the freeze of winter) we could have water trucked in. We selected a 10,000-gallon underground cistern, which meant we could go a month without refilling it. A low level light comes on at 2,500.

I found the Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting[2] online and it is filled with a wealth of information. The manual estimates that one can expect to collect 0.62 gallons per square foot of collection surface, per inch of rainfall. The efficiency of the system is about 75% because some water will be lost in the collection process.[3] So for our example, we have about 4,000 sq. feet of roof to collect water from. Our average precipitation (in nearby Akron, Ohio) is around 40 inches per year[4]…. (4,000 x 40 x 0.62) x 0.75 = 74,400 gallons per year we’ll collect. That’s far from the amount we need but that didn’t deter us from our goal of water independence. Our system cost $14,000 installed.

When collecting rainwater for home use, one has to consider the entire system from raindrop to faucet.  The biggest question mark during the design phase was the roof material. Aesthetically we wanted a metal roof, but weren’t sure if we could afford one. Would asphalt shingles be safe for our water supply? The Texas manual recommends metal roofs, sold under the Galvalume trade name for example, are the best for collecting rainwater for potable use. Potable water should not be collected from wood or asphalt roofs as chemicals can leach from them material into the water. Clay and concrete tiles are okay, but there rough porous surface means a less efficient system.[5] Ultimately we stretched the budget and went with the metal roof.

The collection process is fairly straightforward. As rain hits the roof it flows to the gutters, which have a screen on them to keep large debris out. Water is then directed by downspouts and pipes to roof washers located atop the underground cistern. The washers contain mesh and fabric filters to screen out any large contaminants before the water is deposited into the cistern.  As needed the water is pumped from the cistern into the house where it passes through chlorine and pressure tanks. Lastly the water flows through a 1-micron cartridge filter system to take the chlorine out as well as a final step in the purification process.  The filter’s cost about $30 and we change them six times per year.

WSFTS-Schematic

To minimize water usage we installed plumbing fixtures that use less water. Outside we irrigate the gardens using water collected from a rain barrel. Landscaping with native plants that don’t require supplemental watering helps also. Last year our area saw 33 inches of precipitation through November[6], which is well below average. That being said, our low water light never came on once since we’ve been here. Smaller (and larger) cisterns are available, but we’ve been very happy with the size of our tank.

It was amazing to take my first shower in the new house and realize that the water that was raining around me had fallen from the sky earlier that day. We’ve been very pleased with the system overall and recommend anyone interested in a self-sustaining alternative, look into rainwater harvesting. It’s a viable water source wherever you live.

-Chris

Rainwater harvesting mechanics inside the home include chlorine and pressure tanks, a changeable cartridge filter and low level indicator light.

Rainwater harvesting mechanics inside the home include chlorine and pressure tanks, a changeable cartridge filter and low level indicator light.

On the outside, a rainwater-harvesting house looks like any other except for the exposed cistern lid and roof washers. In this example they are hidden amongst the landscaping in the foreground.

On the outside, a rainwater-harvesting house looks like any other except for the exposed cistern lid and roof washers. In this example they are hidden amongst the landscaping in the foreground.


[2] Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting, Texas Water Development Board, Third Edition 2005, http://www.twdb.state.tx.us/publications/reports/rainwaterharvestingmanual_3rdedition.pdf

[3] Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting, pp29-30

[4] The Weather Channel website www.weather.com

[5] Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting, p6

[6] National Weather Service Forecast Office, Cleveland, OH, http://www.nws.noaa.gov/climate/xmacis.php?wfo=cle

Washer and Dryer

We’ve finally gotten some badly needed rain around here the last few days. Everything is growing nicely for the most part. Unfortunately the weeds are taking over and the grass desperately needs cutting. The veggies are growing well, but it’s the same story back there….lots of weeds. The service berry bushes do not look well so add to my “to do” list, look up what might be wrong with those. The rose-bush I sprayed looks horrible as well. And don’t even get me started on the apple trees. Long story short, not working in the yard for several days means everything goes to hell in a hand basket out there. Well there’s nothing I can do about that.

This weekend was consumed with an art show, which was probably Christine’s best ever. But that just means she’s out of commission, in terms of helping with anything other than her boys and art, as she needs to restock her inventory. Meanwhile I’ve been busy with regular work, and I need to get in the studio as well to prepare for an upcoming show too. The yard is just going to have to fend for itself until the weekend, other than maybe cutting the grass one evening if the rain ever stops.

One thing that did happen last week was our new washer and dryer were delivered. We replaced our 14-year-old top load washer, and dryer with a Whirlpool set featuring a high-efficiency front load washing machine and dryer. The old units were showing signs of age, but more importantly the new units are more congruent with the new house’s mechanical systems. The new washer for example uses around 15-18 gallons a load vs. 40 gallons a load in the old unit. The average family does 300 loads a year, so this saves us 6,600-7,500 gallons of water annually. This is great because we’re on a finite water source in between rain storms. Also less water for laundry means less water going in the septic system. Top loading washers can easily overpower a septic system. It’s recommended we only do 1-2 loads a day max with the top loader, which means we’d do laundry every day with our family. Another plus is the front loader, or horizontal axis, washer uses less soap. This is another plus for the septic. On a recent inspection of our septic tank we were reprimanded for the amount of phosphorus that was in our septic tank, much of which was probably coming from laundry detergent. The new high-efficiency (HE) detergent, used in lower quantities should provide some relief to our septic system.

Electricity wise, both of the new units should lower our electric bill every month as well. I have to look but there may even be a rebate from our electric company for buying more energy-efficient models. Other pluses include the fact that the washer squeezes more water out of the clothes which reduces drying times, which in turn saves energy and money. The units are also gentler on clothes so they’ll last longer. The Energy Star website states “It’s estimated that there are 76 million top-loading washers with agitators, 25 million of which are at least 10 years old, still in use across the country. Washers manufactured before 1998 are significantly less efficient than newer models. Together, these inefficient washers cost consumers $2.8 billion each year in energy and water.” One last comment, dryers are all generally the same efficiency and haven’t improved much, where you save energy is through the reduced drying times. We also air dry a lot of our clothes as well.

The guys at Lowes delivered and installed the our shiny new white units, and even hauled our old ones away to the garage. I’m holding on to the old ones and going to try to donate them to charity as they still have some life in them, and something is better than nothing. I had them hook up all the water lines, electrical and the dryer vent. It’s interesting that dryers do not come with electrical cords. We had to buy one and have it installed. Granted installation was free, but if you’re doing it yourself you may want to keep it in mind. Also our dryer required a water line for the steam function, so keep in mind you need to “Y” that off of the cold water line going to the washing machine.

For the dryer I was going to convert it to side vent, myself, but now that the unit is installed, it is actually 33″ from the wall to the front of the unit, which is what my design had planned for. So I could side vent it and try to squish the washer and dryer back 2″-4″ more but I’m not sure it’s worth it. I think I’ll return the Whirlpool 4-way vent conversion kit and leave the vent coming out of the back of the dryer.  This will save me $50 for the vent kit and save the hassle of converting it (either by myself or paying the appliance guy $100). The finished  location of the washer and dryer should suffice for our design, as is.

The wife’s been reading the manuals to figure out how to work her new toys. It’s Monday and we’ve yet to do a load in the new units but that should change tomorrow. Regardless, the yard and cluttered house…and even the laundry will have to wait as best they can as we’re up to our eyeballs in stuff to do.  Never a dull moment.

Yet another deer picture, this time a buck bedded down in our front yard like he owns the place.

Yet another deer picture, this time a buck bedded down in our front yard like he owns the place.

This is the big buck that lives by the VW I think. His antlers are getting big.

This is the big buck that lives by the VW I think. His antlers are getting big.

So many buttons, so little time. Trying to figure out how to work the new washing machine.

So many buttons, so little time. Trying to figure out how to work the new washing machine.

The new Duets patiently waiting to clean all the ticks off our clothes.

The new Duets patiently waiting to clean all the ticks off our clothes.

Case Study: Annual Energy Usage In An Energy Efficient Home

[editor’s note: I changed the title to ‘energy efficient home’ from ‘passive solar’ – this post doesn’t talk about passive solar that much, I can delve into that at another post]

Wow that’s a pretty boring title for a blog post.  I figured “Murdering Fewer Mountains and Trees So I Could Play My XBox” would be a bit to melodramatic for a Saturday night.  My new year’s resolution, which I decided upon last night was I wasn’t going to spend the day on the computer.  Well I made it ’til dinner time before I just had to hop on and fire up an Excel spreadsheet, and for your benefit, a blog post.

I spent the last hour or two pulling all of our utility bills for the last year or so, and entering them into my spreadsheet.  Also I cracked open a bottle of 2010 Joel Gott California Cabernet…it’s pretty good.  Whoever brought it over, thank you.  You’re welcome back here any time. [editor’s note: my sister said she got me the wine so I wouldn’t have to drink Yellowtail.  Thanks sis.]

2010 Joel Gott 815 California Cabernet Savignon makes everything better.

2010 Joel Gott 815 California Cabernet Sauvignon makes everything better.

So I looked at the energy costs from 2009 at our old house.  This was the last year I have complete records for on a previous spreadsheet.  The records I pulled for this new house span from March last year when we were still finishing the house through this month’s bills.

The old house was a cookie cutter colonial, about 2,700 sq. feet.  In 2009 there were just 2 of us and a baby.  Heating was natural gas, electric everything else including cooling.  The furnace had a humidifier too. We had city water and sewer at the old place.  Why this is important is for two reasons: city water and sewer means water magically shows up and leaves the house and we pay a bill to the utility to make that happen.  This also means we’re not really expending any electricity to get that water and send it back, as far as I know.  The old house also had about half the number of light bulbs compared to our over the top new house and it’s hundred or so light sources.  Cooking was natural gas predominantly.  Washer and dryer were electric just like in new house (we have the same appliances in the new place).  Most of the light bulbs were incandescent but many were CFL’s and a few halogen bulbs; no LED’s. Finally we had a gas fireplace but we never really used that.

The new house is about 3,000 sq. ft. and there are 4 of us in here living.  Heating and cooling comes by way of our hybrid system employing geothermal and natural gas. Our fancy system also had an air exchanger and full house air filtration system.  Water and sewer is handled by our cistern and septic systems.  Both of these run off of electricity to pump water in, filter it and send it back out after our bodies filter it a little more.  The new place also has a sump pump which runs all the time basically to keep us from going under water during wet periods.  Cooking is handled by duel fuel range, and electric appliances.  As I said the new place has a ton of light sources, i.e. bulbs, so that alone is a huge load.  Only 4 of the bulbs are LED’s (not including the range hood’s 4 LED bulbs). The rest are all incandescent light bulbs.  The fireplace is our handy-dandy pellet burning unit, and we’ve barely made a dent in our free ton of pellets we got from Northfield Fireplace. It’ll be 2014 before I have to buy pellets.  We run the fireplace every few nights when hanging out in the family room.

Usage and lifestyle are about the same in both homes, for example in terms of watching tv and play video games.  The new place does not have any electric garage door openers though, not that it matters a whole lot.  I’ve just been too cheap / broke to put them in yet.

R Family Company, LLC estimated we’d use $2,413 annually on gas and electric when they did our Energy Start rating last year.  The engineer and architect estimated the usage to be around $1,500 – $2,000 a year just for HVAC…I think.  I’d have to delve into the paper work a bit more to confirm that.  In reality we’re pretty darn close to those numbers, after considering a few things.  I added up utility costs across the four major utilities most of us pay: electric (E), natural gas (G), water (W) and sewer (S).  Other utilities are lifestyle like phone, cable and internet so they’re not important in my calculations.  So adding up EGWS we’re at about $3,080 for the year 3/12 to 2/13.  Our 2009 total in the old house was $3,129.  So actually a little LESS in the new place.  Now there are some expenses not added into the new house such as septic service like getting it pumped out or fixed if it broke.  Same for the water system and sump pump in terms of repairs.  I did include bleach and filters for the water purification system.  HVAC filters would be an added cost in the new home too (the old place had a washable filter).  There is one bill for electric in March of last year that was $800 when we had the resistance heater in place I believe.  That throws our new house total off a bit.  If you take most of that out of the equation then we’re spot on with the $2,400 estimate Bob gave us from Energy Star.

Here's what we paid in 2009 and what we paid in our first year in the new house (most of the year at least)

Here’s what we paid in 2009 and what we paid in our first year in the new house (most of the year at least)

Our Natural Gas (G) usage plummeted off the face of the earth.  Dropping a whopping 90%, I don’t even think the gas furnace kicks in all.  You can see it rises in the winter, so some heat usage and probably more cooking usage as well.  Most of what we pay for gas is fees, taxes and the privilege of having access to gas.  The geothermal heating is just fine for us.  It’s not too cold or clammy like some people claimed it to be.  The fireplace is offsetting some of this too, so figure if we had to buy pellets (a $100-$250 a year maybe?) our heating cost would go up.

Electrical (E) usage is way over the top at nearly 3x the usage of the old house.  But consider: that wild March bill last year, the septic, sump and cistern all running off electric, electric oven and the biggest culprit all the light bulbs…all add up to higher (E) usage and costs.

Water (W) and Sewer (S) costs are a fraction of what they were but once I have to maintain the systems it’ll be a wash I bet….think about replacing the septic tank, field and cistern and there isn’t enough wine in the world to make that not be a major bummer, man.

First Energy now has this cool energy usage graph that customers can utilize to see where they are spending money on electricity

First Energy now has this cool energy usage graph that customers can utilize to see where they are spending money on electricity

Here's another First Energy  graph that highlights electric usage

Here’s another First Energy graph that highlights electric usage

I logged onto First Energy’s site and they have a new energy summary that will show you how much energy you’re using and where at.  It looks pretty good though it works off of a lot of assumptions, I’m not sure you should get too hung up on the exact numbers.  I filled in all kinds of info about my appliances and house.  I like all the color coded graphs and bars.  It even compares my house to the average house.  For electricity we barely beat out an average house ($27 per month) but for overall energy we win by a large margin ($700 annually). It’s actually embarrassing see our costs pegged all the way to the left on the little cost graph……not.  Granted these numbers are just one month’s were of data I think.  I’d have to delve into it deeper to see what a year would really save us.  Also I need to go back and look at our Energy Star docs and engineering docs to see what they estimated and where we landed.  For instance I think the engineer said about $1,000 annual saving on HVAC alone.

By the way, we keep the house at about 70 degrees throughout the year.  The fireplace thermostat gets set at 75 degrees in the evenings just in the family room area.  Personally I need to be in a certain thermal band to be comfortable so I’m not one to dial the temp up or down to far, even to save cost and planet.

I wish someone invented a smart meter, that my utility companies would support and use, that would do all this monitoring for me and just output a report on my computer or phone. Maybe I should design one.

We can save costs in the coming year a couple of ways.  Convert more bulbs to LED’s, especially the bulbs we use the most.  I plan on insulating the hot water tank. I did that in the old house.  We can insulate the basement walls even more, insulating the top 4′ that are at or above grade.  There are some air holes at the corners of some of the exterior doors that I need to close up as well.

One note, when we go to install a solar power system, having this historical electrical usage will be helpful in sizing the system. Right now it’d be difficult to go zero energy (use as much or less than we produce) because we’re at about 17,250 KWH per year.  Let’s say we had 15,000 KWH per year…that translates to a 15 KW solar system.  That would take up about 1,500 square feet of space….our garage roof is probably about 600 square feet (the part that faces southwest).  So we’d have to cover the house bits up too with solar panels.  Cost would be somewhere between $40,000 and $80,000 to install.  Not too bad considering there’s a Jeep I’d love to have that costs $40,000.  Savings over 20 years could be as high as $20,000 to $40,000 (including tax breaks and factoring in the cost of the system i.e. above and beyond).  The system would save between 400 and 800 thousand lbs of CO2 as well.  These are just wild ass guess numbers I gleaned from Dove Solar & Wind’s website while drinking my wine.  Our system would ultimately be smaller; we’d reduce our usage quite a bit and employ other goodies like solar water heating and LED’s everywhere.

Also today we went to the zoo.  They had a cool exhibit talking about collecting rain water and rain gardens.  Around this building there were two rain gardens with a “bio swale” connecting the two.  This inspired me.  We’ve got this surface water problem in the front yard that I’m going to tackle this Spring.  It’s late so I’ll talk more about it in a future episode.  For now you can look at a  couple pictures of the front yard and our temporary pond so to speak.  Night kids.

This is the little pond we get between the lawn and front bed, every time it rains or the snow melts.

This is the little pond we get between the lawn and front bed, every time it rains or the snow melts.

Spring project will be to address the surface water issue by reworking the topography by hand to get the water to drain.

Spring project will be to address the surface water issue by reworking the topography by hand to get the water to drain.

Biomimicry

On the day before my birthday I had the pleasure of taking a nature walk with the wife and our boys. The nicest thing about our house is the land itself.  As nature takes back over its nice to see all the little plants turning tan dirt into a green carpet. It is so special to just walk around and visually explore.  Our land is basically about a half-dozen meadows visually separated by trees that perfectly frame views.  We’re starting to enter the cool rainy season of Fall here in Ohio.  Summer is finally losing its grip and the plants have run their course. Leaves ease from greens into yellows and browns.  Some are even turning red on certain bushes.  The wild flowers hold on adding spicy blues, pinks and purples to the mix.  It is a most wonderful time of year.  And the cool seventy degree evenings are perfect for taking a walk.

We should get our cedar clear coated yet this Fall and as I said the porches are painted.  I’m going to forego the screens for now and save some money; we’re basically broke for now.  Next week the plumber comes in to straighten the upstairs studio pipes which will allow me to get the task of finishing Christine’s cabinets installed complete.  The garage doors still need their weather-stripping trim caulked and nailed into place.  Plants have been planted, though some boxwoods up front need their bed expanded with top soil before I can plant them…need to remember to do this as they’ve sat patiently for weeks now.  I also need to dig around the cistern and lay some drainage pipe.

With Fall in the air my hibernation instincts are kicking in.  Wrapping up everything outside for the next few months will be good.  Hopefully I can force my ass back into the studio and get painting.  I have dozens of canvases waiting for paint.   I really need to get some paintings done and start whoring my wares to make a few bucks.  We need to refill our coffers before winter….unplanned expenses such as snow removal and putting cleats on the metal roof are looming, not to mention the clear coating of the cedar this year still.  We’ve nixed getting any trees this year including the nine apple trees.

One good thing is that we actually refinanced our mortgage; with rates so low we’re saving  around $150 plus, per month (I have to look).  I highly recommend you look into it yourself. The process was long and drawn out but worth it in the end.  Only down side is the appraisal.  Our banking models are really outdated…their only means of accessing a value on a home is via comparable sales.  Based on their assessment we’ve already lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of value on our property, but I’d contend that the house and property is incomparable to other properties.  The system is set up to evaluate homes in bubble markets in cookie cutter neighborhoods.  It’s really a shame but not surprising when one considers most of our modern business and social models are out of date.  Hopefully our kids will have a better time of it, but I’m not sure how successful our generation will be at changing things.

I went to hear Janine Benyus speak in Akron the other night.  I’ve heard her a few times previously and even met her / sat in on a round table discussion with her before.  Janine literally wrote the book on Biomimicry.  If you don’t know what that is, in a nut shell it’s the science of asking nature how to solve problems.  As we bring biologists to the design table we gain access to a tool box of materials and tactics that can solve the most challenging of problems in an effective and environmentally sustainable manner.  If you want true innovation for business look no further than the 3.8 billion years of R&D that mother nature has performed.  Man has only been around for 200,000 years; to think that we can’t learn something from nature is being just plain stupid.  I was inspired by her talk as I always am.  Ohio is doing a lot of great research in this field and turning out great solutions such as colors that don’t require chemical pigments, super materials made from the same stuff spiders make their webs from and adhesive free tape that is inspired by geckos.

As we live in a world where it is requisite to “heat, beat and treat” everything and dump chemicals all over ourselves until we inexplicably get cancer or our sperm no longer work, it’s refreshing and hope filling to realized there are better ways, that can also benefit our bottom line and leave the world a better place.  For 150 years we’ve been convincing ourselves it’s in our best interest to see how quickly we can kill ourselves and our children by destroying the natural world.  In the end it is so much less expensive to go with the flow of nature than to fight it.  Nature does so many wonderful things with just a small set of tools and operating rules.  I implore you to learn more for your own sanity and to restore some sense of “humanity” back into your soul.  I know it inspires me.  Just two examples of how kickass cool nature is: Nature uses water as a solvent, people have to rely on nasty chemicals.  And nature only uses a handful of the elements on the periodic table to make everything we see around us, man feels the need to use them all (we’re like small children in that regard). One more major fact, in nature there is no concept of waste.

As I think about Biomimicry, I naturally think about our house and land.  Our house in some regards is virtually invisible to nature.  For example, as I listen to the rain outside…we collect nearly all the water that hits impervious surfaces on our property.  What we “keep” or “use” goes into the cistern or rain barrel.  What we don’t harvest goes through pipes and they empty out into a series of pools where nature naturally filters the water through native grasses and plants.  The water we harvest is filtered, albeit with help of chlorine and a filter to make it potable, and then we use it.  We drink some and use some for washing.  We’re working towards using natural soaps and detergents, but regardless because of the septic we’re not using anything too too bad.  The water goes through our washers and showers and us and it all goes into the septic system.  The septic is a man-made way to treat the water, with forced micro organisms, so it’s not really too natural but it is treatment no less.  The treated stuff is then pumped up to the leech field where it bubbles up and returns to nature as water and treated by products that in turn nourish the north meadow.  So it’s pretty neat that our water “cycle” literally can be seen completely if you stand in the yard of our house.  All of the water that hits our property nourishes us but more importantly is dealt with on site.  This is the polar opposite to how it is typically handled in this region, state and country.  It amazes me and I find it to be one of the neatest aspects of the house.  Water is handled in a very natural way, and in the end it really doesn’t cost any more than the typical way, or at least all the costs are accounted for on site, not hidden somewhere in the form of environmental degradation or social inequality.

If you want to know more, read the book or stop on out here and let talk and go for a walk, I’ve got a dozen other examples for you on site I bet.

Here are today’s pics, enjoy and do something remarkable this week.

Be Careful What You Wish For

The sump pump churns, emitting a low hum that permeates the house for a few seconds and then shuts off with a “thunk”.  It has been cycling every thirty seconds or so for the last few hours.  It’s nice to know something around here works and is doing its job.  Yes, I know I temp fate by saying crap like that, but at this point fate can go f*ck herself two times with the fuzzy end of a cattail for all I care.

Today looked promising.  The plumber made it out to fix the shower, check the water line leading to the ice maker, and to fix a leak in the basement. But that wasn’t my primary concern. I wanted to sorta get out of having to do some outdoor work tonight, and save some water. I checked the weather and they were predicting rain.  If I was lucky it’d rain.  And if it rained it would mean I wouldn’t have to chase garden hoses all around my front yard trying to water the grass, shrubs, and wildflower seeds.  Rain would also fill up our cistern with free water.

By mid morning it was pouring at work.  I called home an hour later to see if it rained at home.  No luck the storm swept to the north.  Leaving work I came to terms that I’d spend the evening dragging the hoses back out and hooking up sprinkler heads.  Much to my delight though, as the Rabbit and I rambled down the freeway, I could see darkening clouds to the south.  As I approached the exit ramp it started to rain.  Light at first then a little bit heavier. By time we pulled up next to the garage it was a downpour.  I contemplated how to get out and scramble inside without getting wet.  I dawned a raincoat that had been piled up amongst my tools in the back of the Rabbit.  Just as I opened the car door and put a foot on the ground the entire sky lit up.  And “CRACK” the thunder rung in my ears.  Not worrying about what in the hell the lighting struck I high tailed and fumbled my key into the front door lock. 

Once settled down all the wife, me and the boys could do was stare out the window at the rain and lighting.  Quickly the water came rushing down across the yard, emerging from the tall grass in tiny tendrils, collecting into fast-moving streams.  Every low spot and channel was easily identified by the rising water.  We half heartedly tried to make dinner and not stare at the defeat taking place outside.  With over a hundred square feet of glass facing out towards the yard it was hard not to watch  the carnage as Mother Nature swept away a few thousand (unpaid) dollars worth of landscaping down and around the bend, under the driveway and off into the east meadow.  It’s uncanny how often during the construction and living in this house it has made my physically ill to be a part of this endeavor.  It I wasn’t so damn fascinated by it all I would have cried.  Watching the patterns develop as rushing water coursed across previously arid dirt.  It was as if nature was defining the true design of our yard.  You could see clearly where the southern grass line should be, carved out by a temporary stream.  If we are to plant trees as shown in the plan, I’ll need to brave the long grass and plant them further from the house beyond the grass line.  Closer in the large bed was perfectly defined by a smaller stream carrying away countless pieces of straw and grass seed. 

In the back yard, where there is not formal landscaping yet, the rushing water made short work of trying to find the path of least resistance.  The wine garden area, flattened in anticipation of future landscaping, became a temporary pool.  And the pond berm actually had a little pond behind it after the hour or so of rainfall.  Down by the driveway it was mesmerizing to watch the water collect and wait patiently to pass through the sluice pipe and be ejected forcefully through the other end.  What had been a mosquito breeding, cess pool the day before was now a cool little pond.  Water raced through the tall grass and out of sight.  To look a mere thirty feet and you’d have no idea the amount of surface water was traveling out there, at such a fast pace.

There isn’t much we can do.  Just how life is some times.  I don’t have to like it, but in the end we generally make up with the house and land.  Frankly I’m so fascinated with the outside bits of the property it’s tough to get too upset or mad.  Nature is so awesome.  Everyday I find something new to make me smile outside. That’s one of the main reasons we moved out here. The wife and I were getting down on the house while we tried to make dinner tonight.  We were reflecting on the things that have gone wrong and all the bits that we absolutely hate.  So to be more positive we started making a list of things we like about the new house.  She said she liked how the master bath toilet flushes.  I have to say it is kinda nice, albeit a bit limp for a toilet lever.  I said I like how we had a lot of cardinals around the property. So when there were birds flying in, after the rain stopped, to eat our as of yet unpaid for grass seed I was delighted to see most of them were cardinals.  Nature is so awesome.

So maybe someone is listening to me finally.  I wanted rain and they gave me rain.  Next time I’ll ask for money or beer.  At least the cistern should be fairly full now.

Temporary stream in background defines far side of future grass line between high maintenance and natural tick infested tall grass. Look closely and you can see a cardinal eating what’s left of our grass seed. Pretty birdie. Awe. Mmmwah.

Further up the front lawn you can see far side stream forming seemingly from nowhere in the tall grass. In the foreground is pool formed by dam of straw. Dark soil on right is the world’s largest planting bed.

Wine & sculpture garden to be, now filled with a large pool of water. Wood for screen porch sits to right getting soiled. That can’t be good.

Water rushes off back into the tall grass of the side yard. Pretty yellow flowers. Weeee!

You can see the lone “6th” green velvet boxwood here in this photo. No worries, he’s just fine. Slightly lonely and scared, but overal just fine he is. Wildflower patch is dark soil to far left, in front of temporary stream.

I suspect the Hazelnut saplings took a hit, though you can’t see them from this image.

Very cool pool forms to right side of driveway in this view. Orchard grass is in foreground.

Christmas Vacation

Merry Christmas / Happy New Year.  I should be doing something productive house-wise but alas I’ve spent Christmas Vacation being a decidedly unproductive member of society.  Monday I, of course, had to spend the day playing with all the toys Santa brought me.  I at least stopped out at the house and changed some light bulbs.  Today I didn’t even make it down there.  In all fairness though I had the pleasure of watching our youngest whilst the mom / wife team member was out and about shopping.  Were I a good brother I’d have run down to the job site and helped to unload the cement board which will eventually become the foundation for all the tile and stone used inside the house.  And if I were a good homeowner I’d have installed 1/4″ fan board in all the knee wall spaces.  Alas I’m neither of those, nor am I a good whatever it is I am in relation to you….unless of course you’re my youngest boy, in which case I’m a pretty cool dad.  At least for a few hours today.

Things we’re accomplishing since we last blogged together…..let’s see.   We’re holding at about 60-70 degrees for inside temperature so trades are re-emerging on site.  My brother has been working out at the house this week.  First on the list is sanding down all of the OSB sub-flooring to level out the seams.  With the house being open for so long the sub-flooring started to lift at the seams.  The sub-floor needs to be relatively flat before the wood, tile and carpet can go down.  Failing to sand the seams will lead to creaky wood, cracked tile and carpet that wears un-evenly.  He used a simple hand-held belt sander; very loud so wear ear protection if you do it yourself.

Our Mercier hardwood flooring is getting acclimated to the house's environment. To be less harmful to our environment it's Greenguard Certified. This means it won't off gas harmful chemicals into our super tight house. It's also sustainably sourced.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Tomorrow is drywall day 2.0.  We should have water online by 10am.  Until then I don’t know what they’ll do but the drywallers will be out there.  Within a few days we expect the interior walls to be mudded, taped and sanded.  Water will be necessary so they can mix their “mud” for the drywall.  Our septic system won’t be hooked up until the last-minute so any excess water, not used, will have to be routed to the sump pump or hauled out via a 5 gallon bucket.  The cistern should be electrified and able to pump water by early morning (as I said).  We had about 4,000 gallons of fresh water delivered today at a cost of $132.  Once the siding is done we can get gutters installed and stop paying for water.  Of course by then the world (at least our world) will be frozen so no water will flow down gutters.  I guarantee the first sub 20 degree day will be the day the gutters are finished.
 

Siding is almost done on main house. Awning over my studio is still missing. May be a Spring project I guess. Victim of dragging heels and cost overruns.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
On the ordering front, we put in for our fireplace stone order today.  We’re going with a cultured Southern Ledgestone in an Aspen finish.  Stay tuned to see how that turns out and more details surrounding why we chose that.  We’re just stoning the fireplace for now, so it won’t be critical that we match the stone exactly when we go to do the exterior down the road. 
 
As far as picking out the rest of the lights and bathroom cabinets it’s been like an act of Congress.  Actually worse.  Just need to pick stuff out already.  In the craft room the electricians switched out the 4″ recessed boxes to now accept low voltage trims so I can order the articulating task lights we so desire.  Basically we’re down to just a handful of lights for the master bedroom and all the track lighting left to select.  Cabinet-wise we’ve found it nearly impossible to select a cheap $500 60″ white cabinet for the boys bathroom.  Picking out a divorce lawyer may be the simpler route but we’ll continue wading through the muck that is selecting finishes for our custom-house.  We’re gluttons for punishment.
 
I’ll keep you posted.  Should have more fun stuff to look at in the coming weeks.
 
I’ll leave you with some Christmas goodies that Santa brought the boys.  I thought they were nice designs, with some great packaging.
 

Go Car by Kid O Products. Simple design captures the essence of car-ness. Large handle makes it easy for little hands to race across wood floors, living room carpet and coffee tables. Packaging is 100% recycled paper. Car is BPA free molded plastic.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Automoblox once again capture the essence of the car shape to create a really fantastic toy design. The parts are interchangeable so the kids can use their imagination to create all kinds cards. Kinda pricey but well thought out and appear to be good quality. Wish they had this stuff when I was a kid.