Tag Archives: water efficiency

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 www.reusegraywater.com

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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Canadian Building aims to be greenest in North America

Living Future 2011 in Vancouver, B.C . could have begun better. My first event was a tour of the new Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability space at University of British Columbia.  To get there, all 30 of us had to wait 20 minutes, get on a 40 minute bus ride and then trudge through 15 minutes of pouring, pouring rain. Needless to say, I should have remembered my umbrella. A kind soul on the tour (not from the Northwest, obviously, who

The inside of the CIRS building, as it looks today
DID remember her umbrella) gracefully let me half-hover under hers. Despite that, I am currently totally soaked through though my shoes and coat are now drying out.

Thankfully, the tour was totally worth it. The CIRS Center is poised to be an incredible project, once complete. The four-story, 60,000-square-foot dry-lab research building has targeted both the Living Building Challenge and LEED platinum. Its goal is to be the most innovative building in North America. The building should be ready for occupancy by the end of May. It was designed by Busby Perkins + Will.

When designing and building it, the team concentrated on equally balancing the need to be net positive, or to give back more energy and environmental benefit than the building took from the grid; to be humane, or being constructed and thought of with the best impacts on humans possible; and being smart, or cost effective and adaptive.

The inside office space of the new CIRS building. It is shaped like a horseshoe.
To do that, this building functions on a greater scale than just its footprint in two big ways. It captures wasted heat from the building next door and uses some of it to fully heat the CIRS building before giving the rest back. Doing this allows the building next door to reduce the amount of steam it requires for heat, which reduces money the university spends on natural gas, saving money and creating a net positive effect.

It will capture all rainwater, treat it and use it as potable water for those in the building to drink (this is what the Bullitt Foundation’s Cascadia Center targeting living building status in Seattle wants to do, though code rules are making it tough). It will also treat all wastewater generated in the building and use it to flush toilets, urinals and for drip irrigation. This was a difficult thing to permit, said Alberto Cayuelo, associate director of the UBC Sustainability Initiative. All water will be treated, drank, reused, treated, reused and treated again. This is the first building in Vancouver, the team said, to do this. Water that hits the building’s hardscapes will be redirected into the aquifer.

The building’s price is $37 million Canadian, with a $22 million construction budget. Cayuela said the project will cost between 20 and 30 percent more than a LEED gold building.

“I’d be lying through my teeth if I said this building came in at no premium,” he said. “(But) on a total cost of ownership basis, we can recoup that investment in a few years.”

The project should save money through energy and water initiaves.

There’s a lot more that I can and will say about this project. But I’ m about to hear Majora Carter speak, so more info will have to wait for another story!

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Visit Seattle’s first (likely) living building

Recently, the Restorative Design Collective completed what will likely be the first living building in Washington State at the Bertschi School. Of course, we won’t know whether it meets living building certification until it has operated for a year. But the project is designed to provide all its own energy, treat its own water and lay light on the land. It is called the science wing and will be a scientific learning area for students.

This is the first living building project to target the 2.0 version of the challenge (a tougher standard than the original), and the first project to be built in an urban area. The project was built largely through volunteer work, organized by a group called The Restorative Design Collective. The project cost about $1 million but members of the collective donated about $500,000 in pro bono time in addition to that.

Stacy Smedley, of KMD Architects and co-founder of the collective, said it is important to have a living building in the region where the challenge was born. Jason McLennan, CEO of the Cascadia Green Building Chapter, published the challenge at the end of 2006. Chris Hellstern, the other co-founder of the collective, is also at KMD.

The DJC story on the finished product is here, a story written last June details the founding of the collective and design plans here. If you don’t have a DJC subsciption, this story is unlocked (meaning anyone can read it). It’s a really interesting personal look at problem solving issues on the project. We also covered the installation of the building’s SIPS panels on the Green Building Blog here.

For instance, the team focused heavily on water and has a system in place that would treat collected water to potable standards. But before it can do that, it must wait for state and local rules to change. A runnel, cut in the ground, will allow children to see flowing rainwater.

Bertschi will offer tours of the building, though it will usually be a science wing for students’ education so tours must be pre-arranged. For more information, call Bertschi at 206-324-5476.

If you’re interested in learning more about living buildings, check out the fifth annual Living Future (Un)Conference. This year it is in Vancouver, B.C. from April 27-29. As someone who has attended each of these conferences so far, I can say it is an incredible time.

Here are some pictures of the finished product. More pictures on my Facebook page here.

The exterior of the science wing, Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff

The living wall and area where children will do plan and animal experiments, image courtesy Katie Zemtseff
Closeup of the living wall. Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff.
A runnel where students will be able to watch rain water flow, like a river. Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff.
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In 2011, Seattle moves towards district energy

This week, we ran this story in the DJC about Yesler Terrace, CollinsWoerman and the effort to start considering resources on the broader scale.

For those of you that don’t live in the area, Yesler Terrace is a 28-acre publicly subsidized housing community owned by the Seattle Housing Authority. It is  in the process of being redeveloped.

Imaging one energy and water system for all this space.
CollinsWoerman is a local architecture and planning firm.

District energy systems are common in Europe, especially Denmark. They allow buildings to connect to each other, increasing efficiency and reducing costs by letting several buildings share energy from a main source, such as steam, geothermal, biomass or waste heat.

But they are often cost prohibitive because streets must be torn up for a network of pipes to be built underground.

Steve Moddemeyer, principle of sustainable development at CollinsWoerman, said according to a CollinsWoerman study for SHA, a district water system could cut water use by half for Yesler Terrace and reduce wastewater flows by 70 percent for the same or less cost as a traditional system. Just imagine if you could do that for an entire city!

The fact that Yesler Terrace is considering a water and energy district is really exciting. But what’s more interesting is what it says about Seattle. District energy has long been a buzz-term in the city’s green community. It seems like we might finally be moving towards getting momentum on new projects.

The city of Seattle hired AEI and Cowi to study district energy opportunities for the city. They are looking at where these systems would be feasible and will identify the top three places. Moddemeyer has seen such interest in district energy and water, he said Yesler Terrace might not be the first project to employ the system. If private developers move forward, he said district systems could be the norm within five years. (Can you even imagine that scenario…?!)

Separately, the city is also working with Trent Berry, a partner with Vancouver, B.C.’s Compass Resource Management. Berry is also providing expertise on district energy systems.

The city of Bothell is also looking at installing a district energy system.

The new projects point in the direction Seattle is heading. But we are also lucky to have Seattle Steam here. Seattle Steam, a district heat provider for 200 downtown buildings, has been around for over 100 years. I’m sure there’s a lot of experience they can add to this discussion.

It seems like Seattle has an opportunity here to be a real leader.

Moddemeyer said the biggest obstacle to progress is our faith in the current system. Projects like King County’s $1.8 billion Brightwater Treatment Plant put all our water treatment eggs in one basket, betting that water will continue to be treated the way it is in years to come.

What do you think?

P.S. Like me on Facebook for regular updates on blog posts and similar green building information: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Katie-Zemtseff/301025823604

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Water infrastructure: the problem no one wants to (openly) talk about

This week, the DJC published my story on the Bullitt Foundation’s desire to go off the water grid and the underlying politics of the decision. I’ve written about this topic before in this March 17 post “Bullitt wants to go off the water grid: realistically will it be able to?” Basically, the problem centers around the idea that Bullitt wants to capture and treat all its own water. That means it wants to do the impossible: drink the water that falls on its site and treat the toilet waste the occupants produce. I say impossible because the barriers seem endless. (Clarification: I do not actually think it is impossible. As a journalist I don’t take sides and have no opinion on the topic. But if you were to look at the issue before Bullitt started talking with agencies, it was an impossibility. That’s the point of the Living Building Challenge… to break down barriers).

The barrier I discussed in the story is King County’s capacity fee. According to an internal county

Here is a current rendering of Bullitt's project
document, a different project (part of Amazon’s new headquarters in South Lake Union) wanted to go partially off the water grid and requested a waiver of the capacity fee. The waiver would have resulted in a loss of over $700,000 for the county in 2008, the document says. Because the building would still be hooking into King County’s water system for some services, the county declined the waiver. Even though a building may be water independent, it still needs to be connected to the county system in case of emergency. This means it needs to be able to function at any given moment.

Developers and green enthusiasts say the fee should be waived because it encourages innovation, and developers won’t pursue these projects otherwise. The county says it’s a social equity issue: by waiving the fee, other less fortunate individuals will end up paying for infrastructure and the county has already counted on new development to support that work. Specifically, the county is in the middle of building the $1.8 billion Brightwater Treatment Plant.

I’m really interested in this dilemma, especially the validity of the social justice claim. I had a brief conversation via Twitter this week with @bruteforceblog (whose very interesting blog is here: http://bruteforcecollaborative.wordpress.com/). Bruteforce said if this were a rural site he’d be all for cutting the capacity fee but in a city, the less affluent will be burdened by the cost. He suggested priority permitting as an incentive. However the city already provides priority permitting for super green projects and in this economy, the quickened pace doesn’t equal the amount of savings it once did. I asked him what other ideas he might suggest. Bruteforce said perhaps a FAR or height incentive could be the answer, adding that no matter the incentive, developers will always argue it isn’t enough. However, a commenter on our DJC story, Kent Andersson had another opinion: “It’s not about punishing the poor. It’s about everyone paying the true costs of the services they use. We should allow the exemption to spur the future, however if they need to discharge, then they should pay a higher rate.”

Regarding the capacity fee, the county is currently considering three pretty black and white options, again, according to the internal county documents: waive the fee for projects that go off the water grid, partially waive it or do nothing and keep the structure as it is.

But there’s another option. Why not let innovative projects go off the grid and then charge them crazy insane fees if and when they do use the system? Just a thought.

Where do you stand on this issue? Do you think the county is right on with its social justice reasoning or is that an excuse? What incentives do you think should be offered to developers, if any should be offered at all to get them moving in this direction? Or maybe we all should pay the “true costs” of water and agree to much higher water rates? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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