View of kitchen, cabinetry, lighting, maple hardwood flooring
Well, five months after my deadline, my kitchen is finished. I’ve promised my friend Nancy Peterson, CEO of Homestars.com, that I will write a post for her called “Why I will never be my own general contractor again”. Let’s just say it was an eye opening experience. This post, however, is not about the mistakes I made (and there were plenty!), it’s about whether or not I achieved my green kitchen goals.
I would say that I accomplished some green goals but failed miserably in others, in particular with indoor air quality. For many of you, this will be the one area where you will probably not want to compromise. I, on the other hand, seem to be willing to sacrifice mine and my family’s health for the sake of aesthetics, and in some cases, durability.
March 22nd marked World Water Day, a day used to highlight how important fresh water is to the planet and how much of the world’s population struggles to get reliable clean freshwater every day. Canadians are the second largest users of water in the world with an astounding 343 litres per day per capita. Only the Americans use more than we do, coming in at 382 litres per capita. Our large use of water is mostly due to a lack of awareness as well as underpricing for its use by municipalities.
If you live in or near the Greater Toronto Area you will know that the conservation efforts by municipalities have resulted in a 10% decrease in water use by citizens and businesses. While this is a good thing, the municipalities are complaining that their water treatment facilities are going broke due to a lack of revenue from water use. Hmm, clearly there’s a problem – but it’s not conservation. A water scarcity threat map of Canada shows that southwestern Ontario and the prairies are the two places in Canada where water scarcity threats exist.
In the event that there is a water shortage in your area this summer and beyond, or if your rates go up, or you just want to be a better citizen, here are some tips from cheapest and easiest, to the most expensive and invasive to achieve. The most effective way to conserve water in your home is to change out your toilet if you have the old 12 gallon one to a 0.8 gallon/3 L toilet. You’ll be using 1/12 the water to flush that you used to. That’s a lot of water!
Gray water on the cheap: Gray water is reusing water that has already been used for one purpose so it’s not completely sanitary, but is good enough to use for a secondary, non-food oriented purpose, such as flushing toilets. Recently, I became aware of an awesome woman named Béa Johnson, a French woman married to an American, living in northern California. She has written a book on the subject of living without creating any waste. They are a family of four and they produce under one kilogram of garbage annually.
Now that Bea’s waste situation is under control, she’s tackling other areas of her family’s lives like water. There is a recent post on her blog about what she’s doing to conserve water with some great handy tips that don’t cost, well, anything. From collecting shower water to flush toilets (just pour the water from a bucket into the bowl and the toilet will flush), to collecting kitchen water that’s used for rinsing dishes or when you’re waiting for it to warm up, let it run into a portable container to use for outdoor plants and garberators, and flushing toilets.
Note that gray water can’t stand more than a few hours on its own without starting to develop bacteria, so if you haven’t used it all by the end of the day then flush it down the toilet at night. It could save you some precious gallons here and there and every drop counts.
Toilets: toilets are the largest consumers of water in the house, so if you need to change them out make sure to look for a low-flush toilet. There are great 3L toilets made by Proficiency. They’re relatively inexpensive and flush well. As I always say, if you’re worried about the low-flow toilets not performing up to par, check out the Wastewater guide MaP (maximum performance) ratings published jointly by the California Urban Water Conservation Council and the Canadian Waste Water Association. They will help you select a toilet that can flush as much as 1 kg of solids without a problem. Another great toilet is the the Sydney 0.8 by Caroma. It is virtually clogless and if you have teenage boys, you will understand why this is so important! See my earlier post “Beyond the Six Litre Toilet.”
Oxygenics Tri Spa
Showerheads and faucets: Teenagers spend an inordinate amount of time in the shower. There are tricks to use that will help get them out. For instance, I have a friend who lives in a quirky old house where the hot water shut off valve is accessible through a panel in the neighboring bedroom. So, if the kids have been in there too long wasting valuable hot water and adding dollar signs to both her gas and water bill, she turns off the hot water. It gets the kids out pretty quickly. Granted, not all of us have quirky houses where shut off valves are accessible outside the bathroom, so there are other ways of conserving water from adding shower timers — not all that effective for teens but good for motivated adults, and of course water-sense certified shower heads. Delta, Oxygenics and Bricor showerheads are three brands that come to mind, but there are plenty out there and they’re vastly improved from the days when the shampoo wouldn’t rinse out of your hair giving you “flat head” syndrome à la Kramer from Seinfeld.
The next time you are looking for a faucet find one that’s WaterSense certified. For the kitchen a dual-flow faucet is best: faucets can alternate between low-flow (the default setting) and full flow for filling pots and sinks without taking forever, such as the Delta Multiflow faucet.
Washing Machines: Most of us think of front-end loaders as the only water efficient washers on the market. A few people shy away from them because they don’t relish getting down on their knees to do the laundry, and if not properly balanced, they can make a lot of noise while spinning. Washers also consume a good amount of water, so make sure you do a full-load and not just that single pair of jeans, and if you’re in the market for a new washer look for an Energy Star certified brand. Here is a good website to help you find a new washer: Toptenusa.org and a great article from Apartment Therapy: The Best Energy Efficient Washers.
Graywater systems: If you’re building a new house, adding an addition or gutting an older home, it is the perfect time to incorporate some water and energy efficiency measures. Gray water systems collect shower water, treat it and store it for use in the home’s toilets and can help you reduce your household water consumption by up to 40%. They are best incorporated into an addition/gut job or new home construction.
Rain water cisterns: There are many different kinds of cisterns available to catch rain water from simple rain barrels that hook up to your home’s downspout, to underground or between wall cisterns that store plenty of water. In times of water bans, you can still maintain your garden. The Aquascape RainXchange is an underground cistern, , the Rainwater HOG, or a rain barrel. Rain barrels are often available as a subsidized or free option through municipal programs. Check your municipalities website or rainbarrel.ca to see if there is a program near you.
Always check your area’s average annual rainfall to calculate the size of the container you might need.
Drought resistant landscaping (xeriscaping): To use less water outside, use local and drought resistant plants and drip irrigation for watering. Water at night to prevent evaporation. Most lawns use Kentucky Blue grass which will become dormant in times of drought. In most cases will turn green once the rains return. If possible, it’s best to try to shrink your lawn to minimal size to ease water and mowing demands.
Waterless Carwash: There are several waterless carwash products on the market that allow you to wash your car without water. Canadian Tire sells Goclean waterless carwash, but there are plenty of others.
Since 1993, March 22nd has been World Water Day as designated by the United Nations. The day is marked to help raise awareness about the basic human right we all share to access safe drinking water. Here in Canada it is also Canada Water Week, (March 14-22, 2013) developed to incorporate World Water Day. The point of these days is to highlight the right to every person’s access to safe drinking water.
This year’s focus is water cooperation. Around the world, there are 276 transboundary river basins. Actions taken by any country regarding water use can affect downstream water flow and quality. Cooperation is essential among nations to ensure peace and the best water management. The UN has a page of facts concerning water consumption and the effect of increasing populations and climate change. It’s pretty scary, but can be managed if approached in a coordinated, rational manner (Source).
World Water Day’s objective is to highlight water concerns around the world. While we Canadians count ourselves lucky to have an abundant supply of fresh water, we should probably stop short of patting ourselves on the back. Crumbling urban infrastructure means that many cities are having difficulty dealing with sewage and water treatment. Further, a report by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has estimated that it will cost about $80 billion to replace waste water treatment plants and pipes, drinking water delivery pipes and storm water pipes that are in “fair” to “very poor” condition across Canada (Source).
Canadians are the second biggest water users per capita of all OECD countries (Source). To make matters worse, many OECD countries have been decreasing their water consumption per capita (including the US), while, since 1980, Canadians have increased water consumption by 25%. Part of the reason that Canadians are water hogs is because a realistic price hasn’t been attached to the water we use. In many municipalities a flat rate is charged, which, of course, doesn’t lead to conservation behaviour. If you view something as a low-value resource, then you will treat it as such. Leaks will go unfixed, faucets will be left on to brush teeth and do dishes, there is no incentive to buy water efficient appliances. Moreover, if there isn’t an effort by city hall to raise awareness of the importance of water conservation through public policy, people won’t see it as an issue of concern.
As Canadian cities’ populations increase, the need for potable water will also increase. Demands on cities’ water infrastructure will be tested to their maximum, which is why implementing water conservation measures is more urgent than most people realize. Water conservation at business, institutional and residential levels will give municipalities some time to upgrade their water infrastructure and pricing water fairly is the easiest way to motivate people to think about conservation.
I’ve written many articles on products that will help you conserve water. I’ve written about low-flow fixtures, rain barrels, and gray water systems. Look in the Water Efficiency section of the Resource Guide for products and information on water efficiency. But there are other ways to cut water use that you might not even consider, and, in fact, you can make an even bigger dent in water conservation by altering a few of your weekly purchases. The infographic comes thanks to Loch Ness Water Gardens in South Carolina. Some of the stats are surprising. You might have already been aware that beef production uses the most water of any meat production (1850 gallons (US) to produce 1 pound of beef), but did you know that your morning coffee needs 2500 gallons of water? It only takes 8 gallons of water to produce a pound of tea. The infographic also gives you suggestions on how modifying your behaviour will help you save water, such as switching out your high flow shower head to a low flow fixture, or switching from drinking milk to beer (?) — great excuse for the legal-aged drinkers in the crowd, but maybe not so helpful for the kids (I can hear my teenagers now: “But Mom, it’s better for the environment”).
A nifty product that helps keep your faucets clean while saving water at the same time, the Tapmaster line of products lets you turn water on and off using your knees or foot, leaving your hands free to do other things. Tapmaster is in Calgary, and developed its product initially for the dental industry, but the products found their place in other areas, and is particularly popular with gardeners. This is also a great gadget for cooks because it gives you that third hand you’re always looking for, when you need to turn on the faucet but your hands are either full or dirty. You don’t need to touch the faucet to turn it on — simply move the lever using your foot. The water stops when you pull your foot away. It helps keep faucet tap handles clean while washing your hands.
It’s apparently easy to install and has no need for batteries or electricity. The Tapmaster people told me that this is a DIY project (as long as you own a drill and screwdriver). There are a variety of models available, each one suitable for different settings and uses.
The Euro Foot Activators are simple levers that are installed at the bottom of cabinets. Model 1770 operates solely when your foot touches the lever. The water stops only when you take your foot away. Water temperature is controlled using the faucet handle. (CDN $325)
Model 1775 has a continuous flow option where, if the lever is kicked all the way to a 90-degree angle, the water will stay on (CDN $345).
Temperature is controlled by the faucet.
Kickplate models: Available in brushed stainless, black or white, one touch to turn on, and another to turn off. There are three models available:
1750: Two options for use: touching the vertical space will keep the water flowing until you release it. Pressing down on the top part will lock water flow in place. A light touch to the vertical part will unlock it and stop the water flow. This is a great product for the kitchen. ($345).
1751: A combination kickplate and cabinet door activated control. Either press the cabinet door to operate the tap, or touch the kickplate. (CDN $447).
1756: Allows complete control over water temperature from the kickplate itself. There are hot, warm and cold settings available. It is available in black, white or silver.
Cabinet door activator: Model 1720, installed inside a cabinet door, this model is ideal for bathrooms where only short bursts of water are needed for brushing teeth, washing hands or face. Once installed, it is activated when the cabinet door is pushed. Because it needs very little pressure to activate it, it is hardly noticeable when the doors are shut. It is also the most economical, at CDN$302. Note that this model is not suitable for bathrooms with pedestal sinks.
In floor activator: 1780 is installed directly into the floor. The water is turned on and off with a quick tap to the floor plate (CDN $370). A new model, 1786 also allows for temperature control. This model would work well with pedestal sinks. I wondered whether it would be a suitable product with cats and dogs in the home, however, Lynne Pubbin, Operations Manager at Tapmaster explained:
We have built this product specifically so that cats and dogs cannot possibly turn these on. We have actually tested this with large dogs (0ver 90 lbs) and had them walking on them and they cannot turn them on as it requires a specific force to activate the water. It may not seem like much to most adults or children, but there is an actual purposeful force which needs to be applied.
Installation seems straightforward: For the kickplate and Euro models, drill a hole in the kickplate of the cupboard and the floor of the cupboard close to the faucet’s plumbing and feed the Tapmaster lines through it. Connect it to the water feeds to the sink faucet and that’s it. Visit the support page for installation instructions and videos. Note that there is no need for electricity for any of the units a they work via pressure.
For more information on each of these models, as well as installation information and exactly how it works, please visit the Tapmaster website.
March 12-18, 2012 is known as “Fix-A-Leak” Week by the US Environmental Protection Agency. It’s a time used to highlight the effects of leaky fixtures in homes to demonstrate just how much water literally goes down the drain unused. In fact, according to the EPA, a single household with leaky plumbing can waste 10,000 gallons (about 38,000 litres) per year — which is enough to fill a swimming pool. Worse, 10% of homes waste more than 90 gallons of water per day.
Leak culprits: The most common sources of leaks in the home are leaky toilet flappers, leaky faucets, leaky shower heads and other leaky valves. All of these sources are easily fixable and could save 10% on your water bill.
A leaky faucet that drips at a rate of 1 drip/second wastes 3000 gallons (11,000 litres) of water per year.
A leaky showerhead that drips at a rate of 10 drips/minute wastes 500 gallons of water per year.
Detecting leaks: The EPA notes that if your family uses over 12,000 gallons (45,000 litres) of water monthly (check your water bill), you likely have a leak somewhere. You can usually see the leak in your shower or any faucet, you can hear when a toilet has a leaky flapper — it is constantly refilling when the water level dips below a certain point.
Outdoor irrigation: This is perhaps the trickiest part — hoses can be affected by the winter and may crack or get pierced over the winter. It’s best to check them thoroughly before turning them on for the season. A leaky underground sprinkler with a dime-sized hole can waste up to 6300 gallons (about 24,000 litres) of water per month.
Fixing: Indoor leaks from fixtures are usually easy to fix and involve nothing more than replacing a rubber washer, a toilet flapper, or reapplying some plumber’s tape on a shower head. If you’re not sure what to do, take your old valves to your local hardware store and get the plumbing specialists to help you.
If your fixtures are old and beyond repair, consider getting WaterSense labelled fixtures. The amount of water saved will be significant, and many municipalities (Note: Toronto’s program has been discontinued) offer discounts on water-saving fixtures. Below are a few of the many WaterSense approved fixtures available:
The Titanium22 Collection from Watermark features “streamlined single-lever monoblock units that make a striking statement. The units feature hydro-progressive valves that control the temperature and volume in a single motion. The valve is available in a smooth or knurled-texture that not only enhances the grip but creates an original contrast to the polished surfaces at the base and spout.” Like the Emperor series faucet, this one is also WaterSense approved and has a maximum flow rate of 1.5 gpm.
The Chelsea H125 lavatory faucet features an industry-defying tall, slender and curvaceous design. The spout stands at an impressive 7.5″ high and the handles are 4 1/2″. Cast from lead-free brass it was designed with a flush stream shaper aerator that tilts; allowing users to control the direction of the water.” It is also compliant with WaterSense requirements.
About WaterSense: WaterSense is a partnership program between the US Environmental Protection Agency and participating companies to produce products that are at least 20% more water efficient than standard models, without sacrificing performance.
From the website: If one in every 10 homes in the United States were to install WaterSense labeled faucets or faucet accessories in their bathrooms, it could save 6 billion gallons of water per year, and more than $50 million in the energy costs to supply, heat, and treat that water! Learn more about how you can save water and help WaterSense make a positive impact.
For the most part we rely on third party organizations to determine what is and isn't a "green building material." The only time we might not is when products are locally produced or no third party green designation is available for the product.