Posts tagged How to

Click image for full size image.

Click image for full size image.

If you haven’t noticed, this month at AHBE Lab has been dedicated to water conservation and sustainability – ranging from posts about city and state infrastructure, to those revolving around personal household habits, to offering “how-to” instructions for saving and reusing water. We even brought a little levity to what is a pretty serious challenge. I thought I’d chime in with a diagram illustrating how collecting and using water at home can be utilized for creating a sustainable ecosystem at the residential level.

There are essentially 2 parts to the water collection system shown above: 1. the exterior rain water collection and, 2. the interior grey water system (kitchen, bathroom and laundry). Both systems can be as extensive (adding a new grey water piping system) or as simple (bucketing out clean shower water) as you want to make it. Three steps are required for both interior and exterior systems:

  • Monitoring current water use
  • Developing the infrastructure to use water efficiently
  • Create and implement these new integrated systems into daily habits
Designers everywhere are looking to add water sustainability features into communities, including grey water systems, like this one for Eco Village.

Designers everywhere are looking to add water sustainability features into communities, including grey water systems, like this one for Eco Village.

Our plans above recommend integrating exterior features like permeable paving, rain barrels, and irrigation to maximize water use when availability is limited while also aiding in replenishing local aquifers. Inside, our proposed home is equipped with a grey water system, partnered with biodegradable laundry detergents and soaps which won’t harm soil, alongside buckets strategically placed to capture water at drains and sinks to be reused for gardening or landscaping purposes.

Though these propositions may seem difficult to implement, they do have recent precedent. Other countries like Australia and Israel have already integrated these solutions on a city, state, and country wide basis. There is research being done about the Los Angeles River and urban drainage which may help us use the water normally washed away into the ocean. No matter how small or large, bringing these different ideas to the table can help alleviate many of the water related issues we’re facing as a city and as a state.

Photo: The cracked and parched Lake Hume reservoir bed in Victoria.

Photo: The cracked and parched Lake Hume reservoir bed in Victoria.

Like California, Australia has experienced long periods of drought over the centuries. Australia’s most recent drought was labeled the Millennia Drought, beginning back in 1995 and lasting until 2012, drastically impacting the entire country’s infrastructure and lifestyle.

“It is clear that Australians use less water than Californians, with a similar climate, economy, and culture. If California had the same residential water use rates as Australia, it could have reduced gross urban water use by 2.1 million acre-feet.” – U.C. Davis Comparison of Residential Water Usage between California and Australia

In response to the severity of its long-lasting drought, Australia implemented serious reform at the state government level. For instance, regulators use satellite imagery to identify and impose fines for green lawns. Public government reports are used to reveal household water use, while shaming water-wasting individuals is considered an effective tool for reducing daily water consumption. A cap and trade system allows water and land owners to buy and sell shares of their water allotment. With signs of another drought affecting parts of Victoria and South Australia, the country is better equipped to conserve and manage their precious resource because these strict measures are already enacted.

Although Australia’s response to the latest drought may be considered radical measures by some Californians, it is clear the country has succeeded in significantly reducing their water usage, allowing the population to survive one of the worst droughts in history.

So what is keeping California from adopting similar measures?

Well, for one thing, there’s a reason why our drought is often referred to as an “invisible” problem. Culturally and subconsciously, some Californians have a hard time giving up or cutting back personal freedoms of water usage. And despite our individual efforts to save water, maybe we need radical reform to make the problem visible and the solutions more unified at the state and federal levels. California is not the only state in a drought, and it’s best for all citizens to recognize resources like water are not infinite, whether stricter measures are or not enforced.

All Photos by Linda Daley

All photos by Linda Daley

If you were to look around my home you’d find I’ve placed buckets in the tub, shower, and sinks. The reason? I am intent on conserving water during the drought by capturing as much of our household water for reuse in my gardens and flushing the toilet. The daily yields of greywater captured from the sinks and tubs have given me useful information about our household water habits and usage. For example, I discovered that running our shower water until it gets hot fills up a five gallon bucket in no time.


At some point our buckets graduated from an everyday utility pail to decorative home accessory. How did this happen? I blame the process of trial and error. I managed to accumulate a number of pails and containers while looking for the best ones for collecting water. Rather than storing my “failed” purchases in a closet, I thought instead to keep them where they may be needed. Hence, one bucket started holding long stemmed flowers – just like the ones you see in the farmers market – to add cheer to the bathroom, while another one was flipped upside down to serve as a convenient table or seat next to the tub.

farmers market flower buckets

Not my best decisions. Luckily, my husband put a stop to it. So I am passing along a few tips in case you have not yet ventured down this path during these drought-conscious times.

Things to Consider When Purchasing a Bucket for Greywater Collection:

Bucket size: The first set of buckets I purchased were too large. At 15 inches in height, I kept scraping my calf against them in our small shower. For my 5’-7” height, a 9-10 inch high bucket with rounded edges solved the problem. I also think the rectangular, versus round, buckets capture more water. For the shower or tub, you can purchase the larger sizes, but you will need a smaller pail to pour the water into (see why below). A 12-15 quart pail works for me.

Plastic versus metal: A bucket full of water is heavy. I learned right away that I don’t have the strength to carry a 5-gallon container of water (what was I thinking!) to the garden. Although I like the look of galvanized metal pails, the plastic ones are a bit lighter, and every ounce matters when you are hauling water through the house. Don’t go cheap on the plastic either; they won’t last long with constant use.

Handles: Make sure your pail has handles. I use the smaller 5-6 inch high containers in my kitchen because they fit perfectly in my sink. These containers do not come with handles but then my backyard is also a short distance from the kitchen. Sturdy handles just make carrying the water easier. Look for the ones with sturdy grips. Your hands will thank you.

Color: The first set of buckets I used were painting buckets. They are bright orange. I developed a negative emotional response whenever I saw the bright orange. Color matters. Surprisingly, buckets come in neutral and other colors. I now prefer to stick to white. Otherwise, I get caught up with the whole matching-to-décor thing. And my husband will have none of that anymore.

Aspirations and admiration of a garden as beautiful as this one from Lou Murray has motivated me to search for supplemental water sources for my garden.

Aspirations and admiration of a garden as beautiful as this one from Lou Murray has motivated me to search for supplemental water sources for my garden.

With California residents experiencing a record breaking dry season, many landscapes are feeling parched, while garden caretakers are feeling pressure to conserve water. When Los Angeles receives any rain, I feel a sense of relief for my small backyard garden (although this much needed rainfall seems to come and go all too quickly), but realize we can’t rely upon rain alone for our gardens. So I’ve been trying to find ways to efficiently save water during these drought years and take care of my garden, and my research has brought me to the conclusion rain barrels are an essential rainfall collection solution.

Gardening With Soul's DIY rain barrel project.

Gardening With Soul‘s DIY rain barrel project.

Collecting rain using catch barrels and utilizing the water for garden irrigation is a water wise strategy, and the practice is even supported by many city organizations. For instance, the City of Los Angeles offers great incentives for residents who choose to install rain barrels through their “Keep Los Angeles Beautiful” program, periodically offering rebates which bring down the cost of rain barrels to the subsidized price of “free”.

While readymade rain barrel catchment systems are occasionally available for free or for sale online, anyone can build their own rain barrel system quite easily following these steps using parts available at local hardware stores or big box home improvement retailers:

Step 1: Gather required parts and materials (all equipment is available at most home improvement stores)

  • Large catchment basin of your choice; a plastic garbage can or wooden barrel work equally well
  • Mesh fabric to keep debris out of basin
  • Plumber’s teflon tape
  • Washer and nut fitting for spigot
  • Drill
  • Cutting tool

Step 2: Determine the best placement for your rain barrel
Locate an area in which you a redirect the rainfall from your gutter into your container and safely situate a large container without the worry of it tipping over (remember, water is very heavy, so a stable base is mandatory). If the ground isn’t stable, you might need to lay a foundation or build a raised platform.

Step 3: Cutting the inlet and outlet for your rainfall
With the gutter source directed toward your container, cut an opening at top of the basin and secure a fabric mesh over it. This mesh will keep debris out of the basin. Afterward, drill and cut a hole on the bottom of the basin, matching the opening to the ring size of your spigot.

Step 4: Installing the spigot
Attach the spigot into the drilled and cut hole and secure it into place with a washer and nut.

Step 5: Start collecting
Now the hard work is done! Position the barrel directly under the gutter downspout. The next time it rains you’ll enjoy the rainfall even more knowing the water you’ve collected in helping conserve water and benefitting your garden!

We live in Eagle Rock. It gets hot. A couple of years ago, we decided to make the plunge and install central air in our little 1922 bungalow. When the unit was being installed – on our roof, no less (thank you, narrow residential lot) – I noticed a PVC line being routed along the roof and down the side of the house: for drainage of air conditioning condensate.

Note the PVC line running out of the lower left of the package unit.

Note the PVC line running out of the lower left of the package unit.

I began to notice just how much water was being generated…and discharged into the dirt. This water begged to be captured. The solution was simple: I cut the PVC line, attached a threaded fitting, and ran a super-short hose into a bucket. On a warm summer evening, as our 1,400-square-foot house cools down, the 4-gallon bucket fills up in less than an hour! In the morning we pour the contents to water our lemon trees.

For less than the cost of a cold-pressed kale/banana/ginger juice, you can buy these parts.

For less than the cost of a cold-pressed kale/banana/ginger juice, you can buy these parts.

This represents 45 minutes of air conditioner condensate on a warm July afternoon.

This represents 45 minutes of air conditioner condensate on a warm July afternoon.

Plants need to stay cool, too.

Plants need to stay cool, too.

In a few months, I’ll let you know if the lemons have a peculiar aftertaste.

*This of course begs the question: is air conditioner water sanitary?