July 19, 2010
| by Steven Castle
When we think of green and electronics, energy efficiency usually comes to mind. But conserving water is a fundamental way to be green and more sustainable. Water conservation is a huge concern in California and the southwest—and could be practiced even in areas that get plenty of rainfall.
After all, you can save thousands of gallons of water—and lots of money on your water bills—by installing a rainwater harvesting and irrigation system. With this type of system, the rainwater from your home’s gutters is routed directly to a tank or a series of tanks. The water is then used to irrigate your plantings and lawn.
“Our water bill to date has been the lowest we’ve had in years, with no excess usage charges,” says Kimberly Lancaster, owner of the Green Life Smart Life green home project in Rhode Island, which uses a 5,000-gallon rainwater harvesting system.
A rainwater harvesting system can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on how elaborate you make it. Many also have automated irrigation systems.
And although these systems may not interface directly with a home control system, some very cool and innovative things are being done with them.
“Our irrigation system, even in how it uses water, is incredibly efficient,” says Lancaster. “It gauges evapotranspiration [how much water is evaporated into the atmosphere] to determine how much water the landscaping needs. We installed native drought tolerant landscaping and in total reduced our lawn’s watering needs by 59 percent.”
What happens if there’s no rainwater to feed Lancaster’s landscape? A sensor alerts a geothermal well pump to use that water to fill the cistern.
Automation will also play a role in a rainwater harvesting system designed by custom electronics professional John Morra of MCC Inc., in Point Pleasant, N.J. Unlike most rainwater harvesting systems that use an underground tank, or cistern, this system will utilize four 1,500-gallon water tanks located in a crawl space. Should the tanks overflow, sensor strips, like those used in the tanks of boats, will activate a pump, which can also be controlled via a Lutron lighting control system.
Morra won’t stop there. He’s planning to tie a water recirculation pump to light switches in the bathroom, so when you enter and turn on a light, the cool water in the sink tap is pumped back into the water tank and replaced with warm water. As a result, water isn’t wasted while you wait for it to warm up.
Recirculation pumps can also be connected to motion and occupancy sensors to activate whenever someone enters a bathroom.
With systems like these, you’ll be able to reduce your household consumption of water to save money and conserve our most precious and life-sustaining resource.
Other Ways to Save H2O
- Use low-flow showerheads and faucets
- Use 1.6-gallon or non-flush toilets (if you can stand the latter)
- Use an automated irrigation system
- Choose WaterSense-labeled fixtures
- Buy an Energy Star-rated dishwasher
- Fix dripping faucets
- Wash dishes and clothes with full loads
- Practice xeriscaping (the use of native and low-water plants)
- Recycle graywater (from showers, sinks, dishwashers)
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates