Category Archives: recycling

There’s gold in your gray water

An inside look at the rainwater capture system's holding tank

An inside look at the rainwater capture system’s holding tank

Along with a new age of sustainability comes new interest in gray water recycling and rainwater capture systems.  These systems capture water from your house’s bathroom sinks, showers and rainfall then reuse it to irrigate the lawn and flush the toilets.

The engineering behind the effort can be tricky, but in the simplest terms it goes like this: water from the “gray water sources” gravity-flows into a collection basin. A pump in the basin then pushes the water through a filter and disinfection array and into a storage tank.  The water in the storage tank is periodically circulated to keep it clear and bacteria-free. Finally, a pressure controlled pump automatically delivers recycled water to your irrigation system when your irrigation timer activates. It’s simplistically complex.

Whether on a household level or a commercial level, many have decided to invest in the water conservation effort.  Gray water recycling and rainwater capture systems can save 50 to 70 percent of a family’s monthly water usage. You’ll save that same 50 to 70 percent on your water bill.

How much does it cost to install? Do-it-yourself systems start at $3,500.  Systems for average sized homes start at $11,000.

To learn more, visit

A small, home-installed system

A small, home-installed system



A 10,000 gallon holding tank for a rainwater capture system being buried underground at the Santa Monica Library


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16 reasons you’ll want to live in a shipping container

A new website offers plans, advice and a community of container home fans.

I’m Tom Woods.  I run Container Home Plans along with my assistant Claire.  I have a background in construction and studied sustainable development at Yale. Whilst studying, I developed my passion for sustainable buildings and this is what caused me to come across the idea of making homes out of recycled shipping containers. Earlier last year, I was browsing online to try and find more information on how to build shipping container homes and was frustrated because I couldn’t find much information out there. This is how Container Home Plans was born.

So I made the site to act as a central online resource for shipping container homes and to help people who are looking for detailed information on how to build their own. We feature on our site case studies of other people who have built their own container homes and go in detail, outlining the materials they used, the length of time it took them and the cost of the build. We also run a feature called container home of the week, where we show off the very best shipping container homes as inspiration for people! It’s our hope that Container Home Plans will act as a hub for the community of container home enthusiasts so they can share their experiences with other enthusiasts and help each other as they build their own.

We run the site because we believe that using shipping containers can be not only environmentally friendly but it can also be a very affordable option that allows people to make homes they otherwise couldn’t afford to if they used conventional building materials.

I’d be delighted to hear from people, so feel free to send any questions to me at:


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The contractor’s role in LEED can make a big difference

The following post is by James Jenkins:

There’s been a lot of controversy over the expense and effectiveness of LEED certification. The controversy is affecting the perception of LEED, driving governments to remove laws requiring certification for publicly funded projects and pushing organizations that used to pursue Gold at a minimum to pursue Silver as a maximum. It’s a disturbing trend that is ill-informed.

SMR Architects rendering courtesy of PHG

Using a different solar thermal system saved money that was spent on upgrades for the Williams Apartments. The Plymouth Housing project opened in 2013 and is certified LEED platinum.

Many projects achieve LEED certification without any impact to their construction budget. Of course there are registration and certification fees that cannot be avoided but those costs are generally inconsequential. The costs to achieve LEED that do get noticed are the ones that change the design. Often times the contractor is not expected to change the outcome of LEED certification as many of the decisions and features were included during design. However, the contractor can contribute significantly by taking an active and educated role in the LEED process.

Design Document are not Absolute: Work with and educate your entire team and you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.

On a project we recently completed for Celgene we were able to achieve 30% Recycled Content, well beyond the initial 10% that was indicated on the LEED Scorecard. By identifying all scopes of work that could contribute Recycled Content and working directly with our subcontractors to help them understand what we were looking for and the documentation we needed to support it we were able to substantially increase the recycled content and contribute an additional 2 points to the project. Collaboration and education were key to accomplishing this.

Know the Intent of a LEED Credit and Get Creative: Many LEED Credits are achieved using one of few technologies or methodologies but sometimes simple, creative solutions can be used with little added cost.

At Northeastern University’s Seattle Campus we initially dismissed achieving LEED CI EA Credit 1 for HVAC Zoning because two private offices shared a single VAV box and the cost was determined to be prohibitive to add an additional one. The fact that we were so close to meeting the criteria kept nagging at the team. One day someone asked why we couldn’t control a damper using the occupancy sensors already installed for the lighting. It turns out that we could! While, not a typical way to achieve the credit the USGBC agreed that this simplified occupied/unoccupied status of providing ventilation to the space sufficiently met the zoning criteria.

Understand the Goals, Build it Effectively: If you understand the end goal, not the specific technology, you can find better solutions at a lower cost without affecting the project.

Plymouth Housing’s LEED Platinum Williams Apartments included a solar thermal system in the design. Initially, the project assumed that evacuated tube collectors would be used on the project, indeed the attractiveness of this newer technology and the capacity to produce higher temperature water appears to be the best option.  However, looking at total cost combined with efficiency led us to a different conclusion. In our research, on a flat roof where the angle we could set the collectors was infinite the efficiency of the two systems were nearly identical and the costs roughly the same for the same heating capacity. However, the evacuated tube collectors needed twice the roof area, twice the racking, more connection points in the roof and longer piping. The flat plate collectors were the lowest first and life-cycle cost. The savings between these two systems allowed us to include upgrades elsewhere that further enhanced the sustainability of the project.

As you can see, these examples did not involve spending large amounts of money but raised the certification level for each project. There are more than enough examples of LEED by addition and these are the projects that give opponents of LEED something to argue. These projects prove that LEED can be a tool of inspiration, when used as such pushes everyone on a team to do more with the same, or less, resources.

James Jenkins is the in-house Sustainability Manager and Net Zero Specialist for BNBuilders in Seattle. James has completed dozens of LEED projects and three Living Building Challenges.


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That new desk might have been a telephone pole

The following post is by DJC staff:

Windfall Lumber was started in 1997 in Tumwater with one goal: to sell wood responsibly.

It uses reclaimed, salvaged and FSC-certified wood to make tables, countertops, architectural wall cladding, panel and flooring products.

Production of a Windfall Lumber table top.

Every piece handcrafted by Windfall Lumber has a story. Wood comes from telephone poles, gym floors, shipping pallets, hardwood scraps, trees downed by windstorms, deconstructed granary storage bins and warehouses, as well as FSC hardwoods grown in the Pacific NW.

Interior designers, architects, builders and homeowners have used Windfall Lumber products, and they can be found locally at Starbucks, Whole Foods, Amazon, Olympia Coffee Roasting Co., University of Washington, Washington State University, Seabrook and Clover Park Technical College.

Tables and countertops come with live-edge, end grain and butcher-block designs. Wall cladding comes in stained and textured finishes. New colored cladding is now available. Panelized wood, which is used for wall and casework covering, comes in several stains and texture finishes.

The wood ranges from Douglas fir, maple and Oregon black walnut to Pacific madrone and Oregon myrtle. Reclaimed material is sourced regionally close to the manufacturing facility. Design, saw milling, kiln drying and finishing take place under one roof.

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Light recycler helps businesses dispose of fluorescent lights

The following post is by DJC staff:

People and businesses in Washington are now required to recycle fluorescent light bulbs and tubes. The new law covers residences as well as government, commercial, industrial, office and retail facilities.

Fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) save energy but each light contains a small amount of mercury that can be harmful to humans and wildlife if it is not disposed of correctly. The mercury content in fluorescent tubes ranges from 3.5 milligrams to 8 milligrams or more for older lamps.

You can't throw these away now.

The most common types of lights that must be recycled include CFLs, fluorescent tubes and HID (high-intensity discharge) lights, such as mercury vapor, sodium vapor and metal halide lamps. It is now illegal to knowingly place mercury-containing lights in waste bins or landfills. All mercury-containing lights must be placed in a recycling container specifically designed to prevent the release of mercury. Mercury inside a light does not pose a concern while the light is in use and unbroken, but during disposal and waste handling, lamps are broken, releasing mercury vapor and potentially exposing waste handlers or others to mercury.

Mercury in the atmosphere is ultimately deposited back to the earth, rivers and lakes, where it can enter the food chain and accumulate in fish, which humans and other animals eat.

EcoLights was created in 1996 to recycle mercury-containing lights and both PCB and non-PCB ballasts. The company said it is a licensed “final destination” light recycler in Washington state.

Ecolights said almost every component of a fluorescent lamp can be recycled, including metal end caps, glass and the mercury phosphor powder. When lamps are recycled properly, they are crushed and the materials are separated under a continuous vacuum filtration process.

Glass, aluminum and phosphor powder are captured and recycled. Mercury phosphor powder is sent to a mercury retort for recovery of the mercury and rare earth metals in the powder.

EcoLights sells a pre-paid box for recycling. The company ships the box, protective inner bag, and instructions to users, who fill the box with lamps, and return it to EcoLights for recycling. EcoLights then e-mails a certificate of recycling to the user. The company said currently there are no fines or other legal consequences associated with non-compliance.

“EcoLights is committed to being a resource for helping businesses throughout the region understand and comply with the new law,” says Craig Lorch, EcoLights founder. “We want to make sure everyone is prepared for the transition.”

Information about the new law is available on the state Legislature website or at

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