Water Use, Reduce – Toilets

One of the first things we replaced in our home were the toilets.  We originally had one piece Toto fixtures that the previous owner had put in, which were fine, but for us, at 1.6 gpm, still consumed more water then we wanted.  Our logic?  Since a majority of toilet uses are for flushing non-solid waste, it seems very wasteful to use a whole gallon and a half of potable water (don’t get me started on the lack of greywater usage in this country) to flush when so little is really necessary to be effective.

What we found in our research was that it wasn’t just about it being a low-flow toilet alone, it had a lot of do with the technology, or lack thereof, of the toilet itself.

You see, ‘american’ toilets were originally designed to flush on large volumes of water.  The reason being? Siphon drains; that goose-neck looking curve along the back of your toilets drain.  You see, the water, when it flows down the drain, creates an air bubble that gets pulled down the drain, thus creating a suction, and therefore a swirling effect in the toilet.  This process takes a good volume of water just to create the air bubble and requires more water to ensure that the waste is taken down in the swirl it creates.  This is why older toilets used over 6 gallons of water per flush.  Can you believe that?  Just to flush our waste!  How dumb.

Then what happened is, regulations started requiring them to use less water. Starting in 1994, toilets were required to use 1.6 gpf or less.  Well, the issue was that that was significantly less water then the technology was designed to handle.  So what you had were toilets that didn’t flush waste very well, clogged easily or, as introduced in the late 1990’s, power assisted or air assisted in order for them to work… BAWOOSH they screamed… Scaring the crap out of you.  Very effective but startling.  There had to be a better way.

Well, for the last 20 years, there has been a company in Australia that has been making what is called Dual-Flush toilets.  These toilets have two flush options, one is 0.8 gpf (now 0.6) and 1.6 gpf (now 1.2).  This allows you to use less water to flush non-solid waste.  But here is the kicker, I have found through use at our house, that i have NEVER had to use the full flush mode for any reason.  The half-flush is enough to flush any waste down the toilet.  The reason is, they use a direct ‘S’ trap for the drain.  Very simple and it only requires enough water to push the waste up and over the trap.  And that trap is 4″, enough to flush a softball (not that i recommend this).

By putting in Caroma One-piece Dual Flush toilets, we were able to cut our water usage for toilets in half.  Even if you don’t achieve that level, it is at least a 60% reduction under standard usage.  You can get Caroma Toilets from Dana Jones at Sunstate Sales here in Phoenix.  You can reach them at (602) 484-7148.

Just remember that not all Dual Flush systems are the same.  The secret is in the less sophisticated but more intelligent trap design in the Caroma toilets.  Until the rest figure that out, it is Apples to Melons.  It is amazing the insight that Australians have about conserving water.  You should always start down under when looking for water conserving technology.

Tell Dana, i said hello.  He is a great guy and takes great care of his clients.

Water use, Reduce – Water Audit

We moved into our home in 2006.  While there were a ton of projects that needed to be done,  one of the easiest is to reduce your water usage.  Given the state of water in the world and the desert southwest (whether we admit it or not), it was a priority for us to immediately reduce our water footprint.

The best way to start this off is by performing a water audit.  A water audit is taking an inventory of your existing fixtures and their water use, whether it be gallons per minute, as is the case with shower fixtures, or gallons per use, as is the case with a toilets and dishwashers.  Then, to be more accurate, keep track of how often you use each fixture over the course of a month.  Once you have these two numbers, you can calculate how much water you are using in any given month.  Once you know where your heaviest water usages are for your family, you can start to prioritize what changes will have the biggest impact.  You don’t have to do it all the first time, but create a plan and stick to it.

In our home, we found that showers and toilets were the biggest consumers, so we started there.  I will post more about those in future posts.

Some helpful tips when doing an audit:

  1. Time your showers to determine your shower water usage accurately.  Do this at least 10 times to get a good average.
  2. Use a single gallon container for determining flow rates.  For your showers and bathroom sinks, time how long it takes to fill up the container.  For showers, if it fills up in 24 sec. or less, it is a water hog and doesn’t even meet current regulations.  For Sinks, if it fills up in less than 60 sec. then you should look to put in a new aerator.  Anything more than 1 gpm for sinks is too much and an aerator costs about $5 anyway.
  3. There is no such thing as a low-flow tub fixture… don’t be fooled by marketing.  Tubs are not about being low flow, they are about filling up the tub as quickly as possible.  The secret with tubs is to take less baths.  Or take the bathwater and use it outside for irrigation.
  4. Keep a chart in the bathroom so that you can mark off how often the toilets get used.  Kids love magnets if you need ways to get them involved.
  5. Put a flow meter on your landscape water supply line.  This will very accurately show you how much water you are using.  Leave it on, so you can check it each month to verify that you don’t have any leaks.  If the number seems high… call a professional to have it inspected for potential leaks. (remember 70% of your water use is outside)
  6. Check with the manufacturer for water usage for your dishwasher and washing machine.  Every cycle is different so a flow meter to test this is helpful as well.

This should get your started.  Good luck.

CFL + Mercury

The average CFL lightbulb contains enough mercury (5mg) to render 300,000 gallons of water toxic; undrinkable for us and unsafe for fish.  Some manufactures have reduced the mercury amounts to around 2mg.

The message: It is great to purchase CFL lightbulbs for your hosue, but with that comes the responsibility to recycle these.  Visit Earth 911 for location in our area.

‘Be the Change’ – Really?

For quite some time, the famous quote by Mahatma Ghandi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” has been the unofficial mantra of the green ‘movement’.  Even I, several years ago, before starting aka green, found this quote to be very poignant.  And I got it.  You can’t expect the world to change if you yourself can’t make that change.  It becomes a cry against hypocrisy.  You can apply this to any set of values that you claim to have.  If you want others to stop eating red meat, then you should too.  If you want others to start recycling, then you should too.  But for several years now, i have begun to question whether or not this is the best quote to represent what the green movement is all about.

It stems from the word Change… be the Change.  Change itself implies that we need to be different or that there needs to be some deep transformation in who we are to make it happen.  The reality is, i think it is less about Change and more about Choice.  Choice implies that there are clear options to select from and that we know the impacts of those choices.  You choose to wake up each day and not commit a crime.  You choose every day not to do drugs.  You don’t need to change to keep from doing these things.  Change implies that we don’t understand and Choice implies that we do.  I believe that we as a society already know the type of world that we wish to live in and it is less about change and more about making the choice to live in that world and to choose to make decisions that support your choice.

I have had the opportunity to ask several groups the following questions…

  1. How many of you would like to know that the air we breath outside is safe and doesn’t contain harmful chemicals or pollutants?
  2. How many of you, without sacrificing performance or looks, would like know that the car they drive gets over 100 miles per gallon?
  3. How many of you would like to know that the products you bring into your home won’t contribute to health impacts for you or your children?
  4. How many people want to know that the chocolate they are eating wasn’t picked by an abused child in another country?
  5. How many people want to know that our water is clean and abundant and doesn’t contain harmful chemicals?
  6. How many people want to know that the food we eat doesn’t contain pesticides?

This list can go on and on to include any number of questions.  And i can tell you that in all the times i have asked these questions, not a single person has said no.  It has become abundantly clear that we all understand the type of world we want for us, our family and for society.  Nobody wants their picture on the milk jug.  We already know right from wrong.  We don’t need to change to understand this.  What we need to do is start making choices that support those things that we already fundamentally believe to be true.

Turquoise House – A Modern Eco-Makeover of a Haver Home

Posts under this category will be about our home, the products and the choices we made in developing our home.  To that end… here is a little history.

Our home is located in the Ocotillo Hills area of SunnySlope in Phoenix, Arizona.  It is built on the west side ‘base’ of the mountain that is directly west of the I-51 and Shea area.  The home was built in 1974 but the plans were laid down many years prior to that.  The original owner purchased the lot in 1956.  Shortly after purchase, she hired the architect Ralph Haver to design a home specifically for her site.  Mr. Haver, at that time, was planning, designing and building some of the valley’s quintessential ‘mid-century’ modern homes.  These homes were typically bundled together into subdivisions and rarely isolated in individual locations.  But the original owner was good friends with Mr. Haver’s assistant and was able to get this one done.

The course of history is simple from there.  Like most people, this was an investment in the future, so while she had the site and the plans, she didn’t have the funds to built it right away.  So the site sat vacant until 1974 when the shovel hit the dirt and her dreams start to take shape.  By this time, Mr. Haver had essentially stopped designing projects but since she already had the plans, work could still get underway.  And the house was built.  I was told that she lived in the home until the early 2000’s before it was purchased by a local realtor as an investment property and ultimately purchased by us in 2006.

The previous realtor had redone the bathrooms, the flooring, the front door, upgraded the kitchen with new countertops (plastic laminate) and installed new appliances.  Outside, he had built a CMU site wall around the west, south and east portions of the lot, put in a new concrete driveway and refaced a shed with orange corrugated fiberglas siding even though the shed itself was falling apart and rotted to no end (I will get into these decisions in later discussions).  At time of purchase it was a Two Bedroom (one room was fairly large because it was originally two bedrooms that had been converted into one), Two Bath home of about 1380 square feet of livable space and about 400 square feet of west facing exterior decking and one-car carport.  Overall there were 5 rooms, a kitchen, a TV room (although we didn’t use it for that) a living room, and the two bedrooms along with the two bathrooms.

We have been renovating this home since we moved in and the next posts will get into what we have done and why we did it…

Paint… What to know: part IV

Another thing to be cautious of is the term Low-Odor.  Some manufacturers feel that if they can keep it from smelling, then people will think it is a better, healthier paint.  This is far from true.  Often times, these can be even more toxic then a standard paint because it is possible to add additional chemicals into the paint that will restrict the VOC’s from off gassing quickly and allow them to dissipate slowly over time.  Many of these chemicals are highly carcinogenic and should be considered a red flag before you buy.

We spent a great deal of time talking about VOC’s and Exempt solvents but there is more to paint that you should be aware of and that is Hazardous Air Pollutants.  HAP’s are known human carcinogens that are often found in traditional paints and are required to be disclosed on a manufacturers MSDS.  A MSDS is a Material Safety Data Sheet and is a requirement for any product that uses chemicals, even makeup, household cleaners and adhesives.  I would encourage you to read these prior to buying any product.  The only challenge is that many companies will list HAP’s as ‘trade secrets’ which means they don’t need to disclose them of the MSDS.  Just just be cautious and take the MSDS with a grain of salt.

So what can you do when buying paint… Lets recap.

  1. Look for a paint that is Zero-VOC paint (there is no reason to use low-VOC paints when Zero-VOC paints are readily available.
  2. Look for a paint with High % solids by Volume for better durability and better coverage.
  3. Before you buy, ask if they use Zero-VOC pigments (you will get a strange look from the clerk if they don’t know what you are talking about, in that case, the answer is no).
  4. Check the MSDS sheet to verify if there are any HAP’s.
  5. Regardless, paint in a well ventilated room.
  6. Look for Greenguard for Children’s and Schools Certification.  They test for many of these requirements and are by far the best standard available.  There is also a GreenWise Certification that is good as well.

So, i know you are asking, what did i paint my house with?  Well i have used a wide array of paints but the main ones used in my house have been:

  1. American Pride/Mythic – Same paint, different pricing… Look for American Pride and save some money.
  2. DuraSoy One- An amazing Soy based paint with recycled content and over 60% solids.  it is the consistency of yogurt, interior and exterior and is completely hydrophobic so you can use it wet locations as well.
  3. AFM Safecoat Naturals collection – Much more expensive but overall a great paint.

My first choice is always DuraSoy One.  A less expensive line that is of the highest quality, highest durability, Zero-VOC, No HAP’s, no exempt Solvents and is locally made.

I hope this helps you discover a healthier line of paint for your next project.

Paint… What to know: part III

Now you have learned about exempts solvent and their connection to VOC regulations, now lets look at some other tricks that happen in this VOC -hyper world.

As we have learned, manufacturers have to meet certain levels of VOC’s in order to be considered a low or zero VOC paint.  For low-VOC paints, it ranges from 50g/L to 150g/L (based on sheen, eggshell and semi-gloss being permitted to have more VOC’s) and in order to be considered a Zero-VOC paint, it must have less than 5g/L.  But the regulations are based on the measurement of VOC prior to pigments being added.  Pigments contain a high level of VOC’s and once added to the paint, if tested, you would find that this paint now exceeds those regulations.  This is especially true of Deep and Accent bases because it is necessary to add more pigment into those bases in order to achieve the desired colors.  Pastel and Medium base paints have minimal amounts of pigments added and therefore typically stay close to the original base measurements.  So the paint you buy may not be the paint you get unless the company you are buying it from has Zero-VOC pigments.  These pigments come from the same manufacturer, Degussa, they cost a little bit more, but are easy for anyone to order.  I can tell you with assurance that there are only a handful of companies using Zero-VOC pigments in the valley so it pays to ask them when you buy… or don’t buy.

The next thing to know about paint has to do with the Solvent and the Solids.  You can tell a lot about paint by looking at the % Solids by VOLUME of a paint.  There is another measurement, % Solids by weight which is more misleading as we will discuss.  So the % solids by volume will tell you how much of the paint is solvent and how much is solids.  You want a higher content of solids for two reasons… Solids are what is left on your wall after the paint is ‘dry’ (read: the solvent evaporates).  Reason one, solids are what gives you a durable finish that is resistant to scuffs and washing and therefore make it more durable and reason two, the more solids the better the coverage over other colors or the primer will be, therefore reducing the number of coats you will need to do.  There is a direct correlation to a low % solids and cheap chemicals and therefore cheap paint overall.  Just remember, cheap paint, cheap ingredients.  So look for high % solids in your next purchase… you want to look for paints 38% and higher.

We mentioned % solids by volume above.  This is a shady one because as we saw in the previous sections, manufacturers can use exempt solvents that are highly toxic like acetone and they are being encourage to do so, so they can meet the VOC regulations that exist.  But solvents like Acetone are lighter than water, which means i can replace an equal amount of water with Acetone and the % solids by weight will increase, even though i didn’t add any more solids.  Just another trick to watch out for.

Next we will look at Low-Odor and some final thoughts on paint.