At Home with Conserving Water

Conserving water is a major component in sustainable home design.

Water affects every aspect of our lives. It works with electricity to heat and cool our homes.   We are cleansed by it and have waste whisked way with it. Our pets and plants also gather sustenance from water.

Over the past five decades, the global need for water has tripled. As this precious commodity’s supplies dry up, residential designers possess numerous procedures and products to conserve and reuse it.
Every existing house benefits from a water audit.

Performed by professional plumbers or municipalities, an audit can also be a DYI project starting at less than $10.00.   Whatever the cost, locating even a small leak in a toilet can save up to 200 gallons being lost daily.

Updating equipment also prevents  water loss.
Regardless how unappealing their name, compost toilets are gaining in green technology popularity.
Their design and ease of use have evolved over the years. Waterless or low water models now match many decors. Low flush toilets significantly reduce water usage  from the standard five gallons to less than two per flush.

A HVAC system consumes 40- percent of a house’s water usage. Current models, with cooling towers, now reduce the figure by 15 percent.
Outdoors, the introduction of drought tolerant plants and moisture sensing control systems are allowing conservation-conscious homeowners and landscape professionals to conserve water.
The implementation of new practices and equipment continue to save resources and inspire future conservation methods.

Beating the Heat without Air Conditioning

We have lived without air conditioning for four summers now. 

Located in Northern California's Central Valley, where daytime temperatures soar into the 90s and 100s for up to three months or more, this has been a struggle at times.  Then we remember Native Americans, conquistadors and early pioneers endured the same and the hardship lessens.

Far from being martyrs, it began with lost jobs and a serious crimp in the family budget.  Food or AC?  The choice was clear.

How do you survive is the typical question. No, we do not spend countless hours in darkened movie theatres or wandering aimlessly in a cool mall.

Fortune smiles on us as unlike when living along Florida’s Gulf Coast, there is never smothering humidity here.

The house is completely tiled, making it cooler than carpeted houses.

There are no children to whine as the heat index rises. The cats are content with the occasional spritz of cold water as laying atop the sofa with cotton sheet coverings.

Here are some inexpensive, and mostly green, ways we have adapted.


A huge amount of heat is generated from our sun-filled side concrete walkway and fence.

Simply attaching two 8-foot by 6-foot tarps to the fence and eaves of the roof cut the temps at least 10-degrees.

Being that rain is rarely an issue from June until October, there is little chance pockets of water gathering

Another bonus is a friendly feral cat now uses one of them as her private hammock and her contented purrs can be heard in the afternoon.

 Creative gardening

With hanging recycled plastic bottles and containers, we expanded the garden to include the fences.  Not only did we gather peas, beans and spinach, but the vegetation absorbs most of the sun’s hot rays.

Plant a tree or redo a dying one

Tree shade provides much needed coolness.

Our small backyard has a peach, apricot and orange tree, along with a dead tree that provides a base for my clothesline. Unfortunately, the latter's bareness allows the afternoon’s searing western sun to cook one half of the house for hours.

Unable to afford a tree large enough to solve the problem, I stood outside the first year to ponder solutions. 

Then I noticed the neighbor’s wild grapevine hanging, like loose snakes, from their poplar tree. 

They did nothing to maintain the tree so I reached up and wrapped some vines into my tree's dead branches.  Within weeks vibrant, large and green leaves thickly festooned the tree and supplied the needed shade.

More bonuses arrive in late spring and early summer when young grape leaves are used for dolmas. In the fall we gather grapevine for crafts and fresh grapes.

Dress the part

Light-colored t-shirts are key.  I also adore an older seersucker dress as it allows air to move freely.

Close the window and block the sun

Depending on the coolness of the morning, the windows may be closed as early as 8:00 AM.  The deciding factor is simple.  If I feel more hot air then cool with my hand against the screen comfortable temperatures are being sucked outdoors.

I also use blinds, curtains and occasionally a lightweight blanket to block the sun and keep in the cool.

Eat light and cook early or outside

I recently read that the heavy use of AC could be a contributing factor to obesity. 

That makes perfect sense as weight is easy to shed when the summer heat keeps us from wanting to chow down on heavy food.  We naturally eat lighter and cooler fare.

Our garden provides much of the veggies and fruits we consume, and the blender is heavily used for smoothies and chilled soups.  

If I am baking, it is completed no later than 9:00 am to allow the oven’s heat to dissipate.

Cooking outside is another way to keep the kitchen cooler. Think about all those summer kitchens still found at places like Washington's Mount Vernon plantation in Virginia.  The only thing George wanted steamed was pudding on hot sticky summer days.

Become a fan of fans

Ceiling fans are used when the day is at its hottest. It will never replace AC, but is very comfortable when we sit under one to accomplish our tasks.

Most evenings we are blessed with the cool Delta breeze.  Placing a box fan in the bedroom brings us comfortable sleeping temps.

Appreciate humor, the power of persuasion and a garden hose

Recently, a ten-day heat wave of temps topping at 108-degrees gripped our region. 

By 5:00 pm our tempers were as heated as the outside. 

Project Cool-Down went into full operation.

Stripping down to our skivvies, we stood in buckets and turned on the garden hose.  In less than a minute we were drenched and had collected about 4 gallons of water for the garden.

Cooler and laughing at the craziness we wrapped up in thick towels and ran inside. There cool fan-powered breezes we sat with iced drinks and watched movies about cold places.

Doctor Zhivago, Cool Runnings and Fargo are a few used to lower our body temperatures - if only in our minds.

Living without AC has made not only us healthier - but our bank account as well.

It may not be for everyone - but it works for us.









Keeping Green Local and in Season

I went to one of those quasi/organic fruit and veg shops where rain forest music softly plays in the background and the help wears earth tones.

Rows of blueberries, blackberries and raspberries were highly visible under "ORGANIC" signs.

Upon further inspection they were grown in Chile. The South American country over 9K miles away.

Any organic good was wiped out by the immense fuel used in transportation.

Plus, such long distance travel increases the possibility for food contamination and other risks.

Eating in season and local are important components to being helpful to both yourself and Mother Earth.

Eat local by shopping at farmers' markets or joining a CSA (community supported agriculture). Both can be found almost anywhere and year-round in the USA.

During winter in the Northern Hemisphere it is the time for root vegetables (carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli and the like). Incorporate kale, cabbage and brussel sprouts. Apples provide sweetness and variety in fruit desserts.

Currently in Florida, strawberries are bountiful from places like Plant City and soon in Northern California they will appear along with early springtime asparagus.

I am big on freezing in-season veggies and fruits for use at a later date.

Tonight, peaches - sun dried fresh from being picked in July - will be incorporated into a pound cake.

The memory of that summer day, along with the fact both Mother Nature and myself are healthier, is better than eating out of season berries anytime.

Ivanpah:Clean Renewable Energy on Schedule

Heliostats lifted onto pylons.
40 miles west of Las Vegas, a wager of $2.2 billion rests upon the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS).

Midway through its Mojave Desert construction, the world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) plant project remains on schedule.

By September 2013, Californians will receive 370 MW of the CSP’s first clean renewable energy,

According to the US Department of Energy, since construction began in 2010, 2100 construction workers erected three steel towers and more than 10,000 steel pylons with close to 50,000 heliostats. Eventually, over 170,000 heliostats will convert captured solar power into steam to drive conventional steam power generators.

As part of the Obama Administration’s Sun Shot Initiative, the Ivanpah project has brought together solar energy industry experts from the public and private sectors. A goal of the Initiative’s is a 75% reduction of the installed cost of solar energy systems.

BrightSource is the ISEGS project developer. Minimizing its constructional impact in the natural desert environs has been an important consideration before the firm won the contract.

Flexible heliostats allow builders to avoid native plantings and line natural contours. An air-cooling system is closed-looped by taking the naturally produced steam and converting it into water. Unlike previously used technology the BrightSource air cooler reducing the water usage by over 90%.

When fully operational, close to 150,000 California homes and businesses will receive the clean and renewable electricity produced by the ISEGS.

Renewable energy projects, like Ivanpah, are heralded as investments to the US’s quest for cheap power and the securement of future jobs.

Innovation Continues at LED's 50th
Visible LED lighting’s discovery recently hit its half-century mark without much fanfare or even a celebratory cake.
No matter, as over the decades the little light-emitting diode that could, it pushed past its initial high priced sole laser usage. Currently, with product prices decreasing, LED lighting’s position in the General Lighting market (including lamps and fixtures) is growing,

Residential projects, inside and outdoors, benefit from long-lasting and low heat emission products offered by the Juno  Lighting Group.
Their Pro-Series’ under cabinetry lighting brings illumination to all kitchen tasks, as its dimming control adds an element of safety for those in search of a midnight snack or coming in late.
Mounted to the cabinetry’s flush lip or against a rear back splash the LEDs uses 1/6th the energy of halogen and xenon units. A major plus for homeowners are the units’ maintenance-free 50,000 -hour life.

Energy savings are a big plus when selecting from various Juno’s VuLite Retrofit trim units, for recessed lighting projects. Compatible to most incandescent and electronic low voltage dimmers the LED retrofit module leads the wattage usage bonanza by requiring less than 80% of the former.
Designed for easy installation the all-in-one unit mounts directly to the trim. Its diffused lens hides the LED from view without diminished luminance.

Six decades later LEDs continue to inspire innovation to light up our lives.

Autumnal Garden Care

Cool breezes and colored leaves now rustle across manicured lawns and remnants of carefully tended gardens.
Before plunging temperatures, snow and ice make it impossible, a bit of work outside assures Mother Nature’s glories will blossom again next spring.

Dead leaves add terrific organic matter to lawns, vegetable gardens and composite piles. Some choose to run a mower across to chop up the bits for quicker decomposition.
However, newly seeded lawns are easily smothered as oxygen is sucked away by dying leaves. Clear them away with a bamboo rack versus a more rigid model made of steel. The springiness of bamboo catches and collects the offending leaves without ripping up tender leaves of grasses.
Four to six weeks prior to freezing temps reseed the lawn's bare spots.

Admittedly, a grubby job, ridding your lawn of grubs is a necessary fall landscaping task before they burrow deep in the ground for a cold weather feast on grass roots.
Grub patches appear as brown patches. Digging will expose them. Using insecticides will kill not only the grubs but also birds and any creature liking grubs as grub.
Instead try organic treatments like spraying neem oil or adding a powder of ground Milky Spore (Bacillus popilliae) to the grass.  Grubs slither through the treated grass, vomit themselves to extinction, and whatever dines upon their carcass has no ill effect. 
A word of caution before spraying neem oil is to spray a single leaf and wait 24 hours. With the dual ability to act as an insecticide and fungicide killing an entire landscaping scheme could occur without this test.
Assure a vibrant spring, tinged in yellows, red and pale pinks among other hues, by planting bulbs in clusters and pointy side up - now when the earth is cool. If you forget, nature has a way of righting things underground during the winter.
When looking for new places to enjoy the beauty of tulips and daffodils, to scillas, crocus and hyacinths keep in mind the old Dutch saying, "bulbs don't like wet feet.” Plant them in well-drained and sunny areas taking into account the absence of leaves on springtime trees.
For fuller floral displays, sow bulbs in clusters and with consideration to their full-grown height. Think of butter-colored tulip heads dancing over masses of purple crocus.
Since squirrels and other uninvited guests sometimes unearth bulbs for a winter nibble, consider planting more.
Hardy mums, as their name implies, last several seasons. Use them as focal points or accents in autumnal planter displays with ornamental kales, pansies, or peppers. Many last until through the first few snowfalls.
Geraniums lush in summertime with multi-colored blooms are easy to keep through the winter. After the first frost, clip back the foliage to 4" and unearth the plant.  Place it into a paper or burlap bag and hang up in a cool garage or garden shed.  Once a month soak the roots in water for several minutes. Come spring place the withered looking plant in a sunny drenched location, in or out of a container, and within weeks new growth will appear. 
The return on an investment now in gardening care comes with the first bud of green next year.