Rainwater Harvesting System Installation

February 1, 2015

Why did we choose to install a 5,000 gallon tank (technically 4,995 gallons) for our rainwater harvesting system?  The short answer is because that’s what made sense for us.  We’re using the rainwater to flush the toilets and for the cold water laundry.  We estimate this volume to be around 6,000 ~ 8,500 gallons per year (roughly 500 ~ 700 gallons per month).  So, we could have installed a much smaller tank, say 600 gallons if we wanted to.  But when we looked at the cost of installing the system (this includes tank, pipes, filters, fittings, labor, etc.) the cost of the tank is just a fraction of the total system cost.  Most of the cost is in the labor.  So why not get a large tank?

But not so large.  The reason why manufacturers sell tanks sized 4,995 gallons (just a shade smaller than 5,000 gallons) is because of the building codes.  Above ground rainwater harvesting tanks larger than 5,000 gallons need to be placed on a foundation or platform.  Tanks smaller than 5,000 gallons can simply be placed on a bed of gravel.  Thus, we opted for the 4,995 gallon tank that will allow us to capture larger volume of rainwater during the winter without having to build a special foundation for it.

The amount of rainfall in Santa Cruz has been highly variable in the last 7 years.  I invite you to take a peek at the data from WeatherCat website which shows the annual rainfall in Santa Cruz ranging from 15 inches to 34 inches annually.  We’re grateful that this private weather station located just 2 miles away from our house provides us with lots of useful detailed climate data, much better than what we could do for ourselves.  Thanks WeatherCat!  So, how many gallons of water can be harvested from 15 – 34 inches of rain on our rooftop?  It depends not only on how much rain we get but also on the roof area.  We have most of the gutters (about 3/4 of the total roof area) directed towards the rainwater tank.  This means 15 – 34 inches of rain per year can yield between 14,000 to  32,000 gallons of water.

By the way, the rule of thumb is 1 inch of rain yields about 600 gallons for 1,000 square feet roof.  To get the precise conversion of inches of rain to gallons of water simply plug in the figures in this calculator.

Santa Cruz Municipal Utility bill tells us that our annual water usage (Apr 2013 – Mar 2014) is pretty low — 38 CCF or 28,424 gallons for everything.  This includes water used for toilets, cooking, bathing, laundry, watering the garden, etc.  What this means is that even if our roof areas is capable of capturing over 30,000 gallons of rainwater on a very rainy year we won’t be able to use all of it.  Trying to maximize storage for our roof area is an overkill.

Rainwater Tank

The 4,995 gallon tank comes in 2 different shapes — tuna can or the soup can.  Easy to imagine them right?  The tuna can is wider and shorter than the soup can and it fits nicely into the corner of our yard where the dark green tank blends in with the trees.  The model is Bushman CWTX5-132 which measures 10-feet 9-inches in diameter and 8-feet tall.  It looked huge when it arrived on Jon Ramsey’s trailer on a July morning.  They said that it barely cleared some of the bridges and freeway overpass on the way.  It rolled easily down the driveway into the backyard.  The team from AquaSoleil was busy in our back yard for a few days.

rainwater tank delivery
Getting it placed properly in the corner of the yard was a bit tricky — 4 men rolled and turned the tank along the temporary skids positioning the tank just so.  Micro adjustments were made before the tank was tipped over right side up.  Experienced eyeballing enabled the guys to place the tank so that the openings would be aligned with the pipes in the trench.

skids to position the tank

Now let’s follow the path of the water, from the rooftop to the tank.  Rain from 1,503 square feet of roof is directed to the rainwater tank via the roof gutter and underground pipes that makes its way over to the back corner of the yard.  The rest of the roof area feeds rainwater to the rain garden next to the tank.

Gutters, Leaf Screens

Since there are no tall trees next to the gutters we weren’t worried about having fallen leaves clog up the gutters and the downspouts.  Still, there were gritty sand-sized debris accumulated in the gutter when we took a look one week before the rainwater system installation.  To make sure we get clean water into the tank we cleaned out the gutters thoroughly by hauling the shop vac onto the roof and vacuumed it.

clean gutters

RHINO Gutter Guard was installed over the gutter.  This will keep the gutters clean.  No more cleaning gutters!

Rhino Gutter Guard

Rain collected in the gutters flow down through the 2 screens from the downspout into the pipe that conveys water to the tank.  In case you’re wondering, this was in place before the Rhino guard on the gutters.  Now that we have screens directly on the gutters we really don’t need the leaf screens but it’s there just in case.

leaf catcher in the downspout

Fittings, Connections

The pipes that convey rainwater from the house to the tank in the backyard were installed 3 years ago during the installation of the french drain.  3-inch PVC pipes are buried 18-inches below grade and gently sloped down across the yard to where the rainwater tank is.  Also installed 3 years ago were the electrical conduit to power the pump and the 1-inch rainwater supply line (purple pipe).  The open ends of these pipes were covered with duct tape.  When the rainwater system project came along we found some debris in the pipes since the duct tape fell off.

In the photo below the green pipe on the right (without any valves) is the overflow to the rain garden when the tank continues to fill beyond capacity.  The green pipe on the left conveys rainwater from the roof and fills the tank.  The two valves in the picture will either let the water pass or not.  When we want the rainwater to fill the tank the upper valve will point upwards and the lower valve will be in a horizontal position to prevent water from draining directly into the rain garden.  When the tank is full and we want to simply direct the rainwater straight to the rain garden the valve positions will be reversed — upper valve in horizontal position and the lower valve pointing down. (Note:  The position of the valves in the photo below shouldn’t be used because the rainwater will never fill the tank.)

Rainwater tank

The green hose coming out from the bottom is feeding the water from the tank into the pump.

Outlet from rainwater tank
water filter and meter installed

Filter

Inside the lavender box in the above photo are the water filter and the water meter.  EZ Kleen Y-filter is installed to remove debris before the rainwater goes into the pump.  The removable cartridge is easy to clean.

EZ Kleen 100 micron Y-filter

Water Meter

This Netafim M series water meter is used to measure the amount of water that flows from the pump into the house.  This was installed to measure the volume of rainwater used inside the house for toilets flushing and cold water laundry.  On a monthly basis a field crew from Ecology Action comes by to take measurements and water samples.  Thus far they’ve told us that our rainwater is pretty clean.

Netafim M-series Water Meter

Pump

Grundfos MQ 3-45 pump turns on automatically when it detects water flow and shuts off automatically when water ceased to flow.  So it only turns on when we flush the toilets or when the washing machine calls for cold water.

Grundfos MQ 3-45 pump

Notice the rainwater spigot is painted purple and the tag clearly says non-potable water.  If you happen to visit our yard please don’t drink this water!

Rainwater Spigot

Connect and Test

Since there were 2 different companies involved in installing our rainwater system infrastructure we asked both to be present when we did the initial test.  Back in 2012 Santa Cruz Green Builders installed the dual plumbing to the toilets and washing machine inside the house as well as the underground infrastructure in the yard.  In 2014 AquaSoleil installed the tank, pump, and the fittings.  

It was a dry August week with no chance of rain when we did the installation.  So the tank needed to be partially filled with city water supply to do the end-to-end test.  First part of the test was to see if the water from the gutter will fill the rainwater tank.  This was simulated by taking the garden hose and running the water into the downspout.  This test removed all doubt of whether gravity feeding was adequate to fill the rainwater tank or not.

Pour water into downspout for test
Rainwater tank is filled

The cutover from city water source to rainwater source was easy.  First, the city water valve was turned off and the hose connected to toilet tank was switched over to the rainwater side.  Before connecting the hose to the toilet, accumulated debris (dirt and mulch) was first flushed out from the pipe that sat dormant for 2 years.  Flushing out the debris proved that the pump was working. When the water ran clear for a minute or so the hose was connected to the toilet.  I had the honor of pressing the button on the Niagara Stealth toilet for the first test and it worked!  So now, we just need to wait for the rain.

And we did get a little bit of rain in September.  Less than an inch but it probably deposited about 400 gallons in our rainwater tank.  Optimistically expecting more rain in October, we switched our toilet line from city water to the rainwater supply on October 1, 2014.  Hurray!  All done, right?  Well, not really.

Backflow Prevention


In mid-October we learned that the rainwater system project was not truly done.  Not until the paperwork is finished with the water department, anyway.  We received a call from them asking us if we had a back flow prevention device installed.  We didn’t and we hoped we didn’t have to.

Backflow prevention device is installed to protect the potable water supply.  If there is a condition on the property that has the potential for untreated water (rainwater in our case) to flow back into the water department’s supply line then a backflow prevention device must be installed near the utility’s water meter on our property.  In our case the potential exists because we have a pump that conveys rainwater to the toilets and washing machine.  If a cross connection was made to connect rainwater to city’s potable water (which we wouldn’t do because we won’t be able to flush the toilets) and the city’s water pressure dropped because a nearby fire hydrant was hit by a bus (which I’ve seen happen last year) then our non-potable rainwater could get into the city’s water supply.  It’s a very remote chance  but our water department is vigilant and have a good track record for installing backflow prevention devices.

Below is a photo of a small backflow prevention device.  Once I recognized this for what it is I started seeing them everywhere — in front of medical buildings, shopping malls, commercial buildings, schools, etc.  The presence of the backflow prevention device means there’s some potential at the property for non-potable water to get into the water supply.  Typical things that raise a red flag are radiant floor system, solar thermal system, and pump of some kind.  Some of the backflow prevention devices on commercial properties are huge — diameter of the pipe being the size of a large tree trunk.  Besides the additional cost to install the device there is an annual cost associated with having this on the property — annual inspection must be made by a certified professional who charges for such inspection.  But mostly I didn’t want this in our front yard because I didn’t want it to deter other people from doing a rainwater harvesting project like ours.  It’s a simple concept and the implementation should be simple too.

Backflow prevention device

I invited the inspector to come take a look at our installation and discussed the approach used by another site doing the same rainwater application over at the Live Oak Grange.  They have the system set up so that the rainwater lines are permanently connected to the toilet, thus eliminating the need for switching the lines back and forth between city water and rainwater.  The city water feeds the rainwater tank when the water level gets low using a float and a valve triggered by the float. ( This is just like how the toilet tank is filled using a float and a valve.)  The key to this setup is to show that there is an “air gap” between the city water supply and the rainwater tank.  

I told the inspector we will be doing the same and he agreed to this approach.  When he came back again to look at the completed setup of the “air gap” he was satisfied and signed off on the paperwork.  He’ll be making a visual inspection of the air gap on an annual basis.

Here are some photos from the installation of the air gap and testing to make sure it works.

When the water level is down the float pulls the string and the valve opens
When the water level is up the float shuts off the valve

There is an air gap of 3 inches between the valve (blue) and the top of the tank

We started using rainwater for toilet flushing on October 1, 2014.  After the big storm in December our rainwater tank was full so we switched our cold water line for the washing machine on January 5, 2015.  We haven’t noticed any difference in the quality of laundry.  So far so good!

Water Efficiency Features

August 22, 2014

In this post I will share the water efficiency features we have at Midori Haus.  The features are organized into 3 categories:  easy, moderate, and advanced.  The items in the easy category can be done for a low cost without specialized skills such as changing the shower head.  The moderate items cost a little bit more and unless you have the skills yourself, you’ll likely need to hire someone who knows what they’re doing.  For example changing out your toilet.  The advanced items require permit and competence in plumbing and you’ll need to hire a plumber.

Easy:  Sheet Mulching

Sheet mulching is a great way to manage rainwater oudoors.  It’s good for both water conservation (no need to water the lawn) and for water onsite recharge (rather than sending the rainwater down the storm drain).  Sheet mulching is easy.  First you harvest a bunch of large, sturdy cardboards from the recycling bins of stores that sell large stuff like bicycles, appliances, lawn mowers, etc.  Be sure to ask them first.  Even if it’s a waste product they’re dumping in the recycling bin the stores appreciate you for asking their permission to take the cardboards.  Once you’ve hauled the cardboards to your property (you may need to make several trips) you lay them down in the yard, overlapping the edges by 6-8 inches to block the weeds from sprouting, and spread wood chips or mulch over them.  We got our mulch from Vision Recycling.

Our primary purpose for sheet mulching was to have a low maintenance yard while we figured out what to do with landscaping.  Some folks test the soil then apply compost and soil amendment before laying down cardboard to make the soil suitable for the intended plants.  Since we didn’t know specific plants to be placed in what spot and we needed to cover a large area (about 4,000 sqft) we didn’t bother with applying compost below the cardboard.  The only thing we paid attention to was the removal of all packing tape and staples from the cardboard boxes.  This we learned years ago when we did sheet mulching at another property.  The packing tapes adhered to the cardboards lasted much longer than the cardboard itself and and over time we ended up picking up strips of plastic tape in the mulch when the carboard degraded.  It looks a bit trashy and ugly at that point so best to eliminate them before placing the cardboard down.

Heads-up:  If you plan to do sheet mulching be sure to check with your local water department for rebate availability.  We didn’t qualify for the rebate from our local water department because the criteria was removal of active water sprinklers. Since the sprinklers and pipes we dug up were not used for several years we did not get a rebate.  My friend in San Bruno recently completed sheet mulching of her yard but found out too late about the rebate.  The water department in her area offers rebate for sheet mulching but you have to apply for it before you begin your project.   Each water district offers different incentives so check with them before you embark on water saving projects at your home.

Sheet mulching is beneficial in many ways.  The obvious one is to eliminate the need to water a lawn.  In our case the unmanicured grass in the yard was plain ugly so we were happy to not water them and cover it up.  The second benefit is to avoid flooding during heavy rain because the mulch soaks up the rainwater.  In the winter a section in the backyard near the garage would flood and made it difficult to get into the garage.  This problem went away with sheet mulching.  The third benefit is to keeping our shoes clean during the rain. With heavy clay soil around our property walking on wet soil after rain resulted in having an inch of mud caked on to the bottom of our shoes.  And finally, the mulch keeps the soil underneath moist and happy.  Our orange tree seems to be doing a lot better after sheet mulching.

Here are some photos of before, during and after sheet mulching.

Before:  Backyard near the garage would flood during heavy rain.

Before:  Although we dug up old sprinkler remains we weren’t eligible for a rebate from the water department.

During:  Laying down cardboard.

During:  Wood chips delivered 

After:  Sheet mulching completed. 

Food for thought:  Did you know that the volume of water used outdoors versus indoors vary quite a bit within California?  In the interactive graph in this KQED blog you’ll see the average household water use in California broken down by indoor and outdoor use.  The average use for the state of California is 53% outdoors and 47% indoors.  In northern California, where we are, the ratio is reversed where 42% (125 gallons/day) is for outdoor and 58% (171 gallons/day) is for indoor.  Then there are further variation by water districts.  For example, when you look at a coastal city like Santa Cruz the residents have low average use of 95 gallons per day and the portion for outdoor use is small.  If you’re interested in further detail of the water use by Santa Cruz residents the Water Use Baseline Survey will provide you with interesting data such as 50% of single family homes have no turf (figure 13 page 26).

Easy:  Showerhead

Replacing the showerhead is easy.  Plumbing code requires showerheads to be 2.5 gallons per minute (GPM) or less and we all can do better than that.  We came across the Niagara line of products at the exhibitor booth at a water conservation conference we attended. Here is a photo of our well-used, hard-water-stained showerhead made by Niagara.

Niagara Bi-Max Showerhead can be set for 1 gallon per minute or 1.5 gallons per minute.  We have it set at 1 GPM and the it feels nice.  The water that hits your body is a combination of a raindrop and a fine mist and it’s surprisingly satisfying.

Easy:  Faucet

Here’s another product from Niagara to reduce water flow.  This aerator attached to the bathroom faucet and we usually have it set to the low flow setting for handwashing.  I use the higher flow rate if I’m filling a vase or a small bucket.

Niagara Tri-Max Aerator has 3 settings:  0.5 gallons per minute, 1.0 gallons per minute, and 1.5 gallons per minute.

Easy:  No Garbage Disposal

Grinding food scraps in the garbage disposal requires both electricity and water.  And you may be inclined to use lots of water to make sure the food scraps move along in the waste water pipe to prevent clogging.  But what if you didn’t send the food scraps down the sink in the first place?  It’s just as easy to trap the carrot peels and food scraps in the wire mesh and throw it into the trash can. Or placing the food scraps in the compost bin is even better.

We didn’t install garbage disposal under the sink becase we didn’t want the noise and we also wanted to save both water and electricity.  We’ve been living in Midori Haus for 18 months and I’m happy to report that we have had no problems with the food scraps clogging our pipes.  We have double containment in our kitchen sink to prevent large food particles from getting into the wastewater pipe.  It doesn’t take much effort to empty out the strainers regularly.  The basket strainer came with the sink and we got the mesh strainer at local hardware store.

If you have a garbage disposal in your kitchen sink today you can simply choose to stop using them.  Super simple, right?  But I realize that some folks are really passionate about their garbage disposal.  In the introduction section of the book, On The Grid, Scott Hueler shares a colorful narrative of his city’s (Raleigh, North Carolina) attempt to ban the garbage disposal during a drought.

Food for thought:  Have you ever taken a tour of the sewage treatment plant?  I’ve been to waste water treatment plants in Santa Cruz and Palo Alto and have taken a guided tour of the facilities.  Yes, it’s stinky.  It’s also quite fascinating.  One of the first things they do at sewage treatment plant is to scoop out solid materials to be hauled off to a landfill.  This made me think about how my personal actions affect downstream processing at the wastewater treatment plant.  By grinding your food scraps in the garbage disposal and sending it down the sewer you’re just giving the waste water treatment plant more stuff to process.  I should mention too that in my monthly utility bill that combines water, garbage, and sewer services the sewer component is the most expensive.

Moderate:  Toilets

Most homes have 1.6 gallons per flush toilets.  These are much better than the older toilets but if you want to do better you can install a dual flush toilet (2 different buttons — one for liquid waste and another for solid waste).  Or you can simply install a 0.8 GPF Niagara Stealth toilet like we did.

We have two of these toilets and they work well.

Look for rebates in your area for replacing your older toilet that used more than 1.6 gallons per flush with high efficiency toilets.  Here’s an example of a high efficiency toilet rebate in San Francisco.

Moderate:  Dishwasher

A small dishwasher uses less water than a large one.  For just the two of us this Futura Slimline Series dishwasher from Miele works really well.  It’s less than 18-inches wide but it fits dishes for 10 place settings.  It uses only 6 gallons per cycle.

Moderate:  Clothes washer

For clothes washer we chose the 24″ Bosch Axxis Plus model that uses very little water.  The manufacturer’s spec sheet says 3,904 gallons per year.  In general the front loading washers use 1/3 less water and detergent than the top loading ones.

Moderate:  Spray Rinse in Kitchen

The commercial pre-rinse assembly and faucet from Fisher delivers 1.15 GPM at 60 PSI.  It removes food from pots and pan pretty well using very little water.  We decided to use a commercial assembly rather than a residential kitchen faucet because it’s cheaper than the fancy residential models, works better, and the replacement parts will be available for a long time.  It doesn’t look bad either.

Moderate:  Laundry to Landscape Graywater

The wastewater pipe from our washing machine is connected to diverter valve that can direct the laundry wastewater from the washing machine to the landscape.

Right now the diverter valve is set to flow the laundry wastewater to the sewer.  Why?  Well, we don’t have our garden planted with all the fruit trees we want yet.  Our orange and apples trees are very mature and the roots are probably tapped into some water source.  We’ve planted lemon, plum, and pear trees a few months ago and will likely plant other fruit trees.  Once all the trees are planted we’ll lay out the irrigation pipes to direct the laundry water to the roots of the fruit trees.  I wrote about laundry to landscape when I took a workshop with LeAnne Ravinale in October 2011 showing details of an installation at another house in Santa Cruz.  You can find the post here.

While Laundry to Landscape can be done without pulling a permit in California you need to follow some guidelines.  By the way, you need to be careful about the type of laundry soap you use when you start watering your garden with your laundry wastewater.  There is a list of ingredients to avoid and you can carefully read the label of the the laundry soap at the supermarket.  But it’s much easier to refer to a list of safe products and shop from the safe list.

We have a very water efficient front loading washing machine so the amount of laundry water irrigating the landscape will be about 50-80 gallons per week for doing 6-8 loads of laundry.  If you have an older top loading washer you can direct a lot more laundry wastewater to water your garden!

Advanced:  Thinner Pipes

“What do you do between the time you turn on your shower and the time you get in?” was the question asked in the hot water heating class at PG&E.  The guy sitting next to me said he would go to the kitchen and make coffee and come back in 5 minutes because that’s how long it took for the hot water to come from the water heater to the shower.  Other people had various routines they would do while waiting for the shower to get warm.  When I told the instructor I didn’t have a routine he asked me, “So you just turn on your shower and get in?” to which I replied, “Yes, the hot water heater is next to the shower.” I took this class several years ago from Gary Klein who works in the area of water-energy nexus.  He has an interesting presentation on the topic of residential hot water distribution systems and advocated the use of structured plumbing where quick hot water would be available to every fixture with no greater energy consumption, with the target of no more than one cup of water is wasted while waiting for hot water.

The cold water flowing from the showerhead down into the drain represents the water that was sitting in the pipe between the hot water heater and the showerhead.  The longer the distance between the hot water heater and the shower the more water wasted.  The fatter the diameter of the pipe the more water wasted.  (On page 25 of Gary’s paper you’ll see the chart that represents the various lengths of the pipe that holds 1 cup of water for different diameter pipes.)  For example, the length of a 3/4-inch diameter pipe holding one cup of water is 2.5 feet long.  The length of a 3/8-inch diameter pipe holding one cup of water is 8 feet long.  So, thinner pipes means less water wasted.  In the case of the the guy in class who made coffee while waiting for his shower to get warm he had a fat pipe that ran a long distance.

I imagine some of you put a bucket in the shower to collect the cold water while waiting for the shower to get warm then use the water in the bucket to water the plants in the garden — if you do bravo!  But not everyone is that conscientious and sometimes you forget.  So, if you have the opportunity to replace your distribution plumbing in your house go for the thinner pipes which reduces water waste.

Since we replaced all the walls and the plumbing infrastructure was ripe for replacement we chose to go with thinner pipes.  At Midori Haus we have cross linked polyethylene PEX tubes conveying cold and hot water through the house.  These tubes, fast becoming the standard in residential plumbing, have several benefits.  These include flexibility that enables routing to avoid cutting and splicing, easier installation, lower cost, and more.  See this link for other benefits of PEX.  To minimize the volume of hot water sitting in the distribution pipes we used 3/8-inch PEX line between the hot water heater and fixtures.  The cold water line coming into the house to the hot water heater is a larger 3/4-inch PEX pipe.  I’ve watched our general contractor, Taylor Darling of Santa Cruz Green Builders install PEX and make various connections and it seemed straight forward.

There are concerns about the chemicals leaching from PEX.  The type of material we used (ASTM F2023 standard) has a 25 year assurance.  We filter our drinking water at the kitchen sink.  If you are concerned about this I invite you to visit this site and made a decision for yourself.

Here are some photos of the PEX lines taken during installation.

PEX lines behind the master bathroom shower

PEX expander tool used to connect the cold water line under the house

Home run PEX lines converging at central manifold in the interior wall next to the mechanical room 

To further minimize the heat loss of the hot water sitting in pipe the 3/8-inch hot water PEX lines are insulated using Therma Cell which has an R-value of 5.8.

Food for thought:  Another way to minimize hot water waste at the faucet or the shower is to use a recirculating pump in the hot water line.  This can be installed using a timer that circulates hot water on a programmable schedule or have it operate manually by pressing a button.  We decided not to use a recirculating pump at Midori Haus because our hot water lines to the showers are relatively short and we didn’t want to use electricity for this purpose.

Advanced:  Rainwater for indoor non-potable use

Many people collect rainwater from the roof of their house and store them in a tank for watering their garden.  This is not difficult and many people take this on a s a DIY project by referring to online resources or by attending community workshops.  American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) is a good resource for workshops and webinars on rainwater harvesting.

A more complex use of rainwater is to put indoor plumbing in place to for non-drinking purposes.  Toilet flushing and laundry are the two large components of indoor residential water use according to this diagram from East Bay Municipal Utility District.

If we replace the water used used for toilet flushing and clothes washing with rainwater we can reduce the demand on our local water utility.  We knew we wanted to use rainwater for toilet flushing laundry.  But 3 years ago when we were in the midst of designing the details of Midori Haus we had a difficult time finding a resource to design and install a rainwater system for toilet flushing and laundry for a reasonable cost.  Back then this was not part of the plumbing code so the specialist that designed and installed these systems had to go through a cumbersome process to get the system approved for a permit to satisfy the building department and the health department.  People who had such systems installed spent around $30,000 and that was too much for us.  So, in anticipation of having the rainwater for toilet flushing and laundry implemented in a future stage we had the toilets and washer dual plumbed — one line for city water and another line for rainwater.  This will allow us to simply unscrew the hose that connects the toilet (or the washer) to the city water line and connect it with the rainwater line when the system is available.  There is no cross connection in this approach — the rainwater and city water never mixes.  Here are some photos of the internal plumbing.

                              Rainwater line into the house

Dual plumbing for toilet

Spigots for washing machine

Note:  There is a difference between rainwater and gray water.  Gray water is re-using the water from your sink, shower, and washing machine by making changes in the sewer plumbing so that you can direct the waste water to your landscape or to the sewer.  Rainwater is harvesting the rain water that falls on your property and using them for irrigating your landscape or using them for non-potable use indoors.

Exterior details of the rainwater harvesting system installed by AquaSoleil will be covered in the next post.

What’s New? What’s Old?

“Is this part of the original house?” is one of the questions people ask when they visit Midori Haus.  We feel complimented when people ask that question because we did put fair amount of effort into re-using materials to give it the look and feel of a vintage house that was originally built in 1922.  When we didn’t have any specific old looking items to re-use we bought new items that were made to look in the old style.

An example of this is the push button switch for the lights.  The house did not have push button switches when we bought it in 2010 but we are pretty sure that the orignal house did.  So to give it the original look we bought push button switches and switch plates in oil-rubbed bronze finish from Rejuvenation in Berkeley.

Most are simple on/off switches where you press the top button to turn lights on.  To turn the lights off you press the bottom button.  Some of the switches have a dimming function where you press the bottom button for on/off and the top is an adjustable dial to control the light intensity.  We chose to use these antique looking switches for pure decorative purposes.  There are no energy efficiency advantages.

Let’s look at the hallway bathroom door for a good mixture of old and new items.  The frosted glass on white door with the glass door knob has a vintage look.  When friends saw this door before the renovation they would say, “That looks like the door in my grandmother’s old house,” or “My basement door in my old bungalow has a door just like that.”

 We added the stained glass window above the door to let more light into the hallway.  People often perceive this to old but we got this new from The Bright Spot.

The door, the knob and the trims are original with fresh paint.

 We kept the built-in storage unit in the hallway.  These front got some fresh paint and the inside was simply cleaned.  It smells of old wood when you open the drawers and it’s part of the charm.

Most of the floor is original.  We removed the floor coverings (tile, carpet, linoleum) and had the original wood floors refinished.

The windows on the front of the house retained the same positions and size.  The triple-pane, Argon-filled fiberglass windows have a much better performance than the old single pane leaded window.

We did re-use the trims around the windows.  Santa Cruz Green Builders did a great job of matching the wood covering the deep window sill with the original window trims.

Notice the patched marks of nail holes on the window trim.  This is evidence of prior homeowners  installing curtain rods multiple times on this window trim.

 

  The mudroom bench and cabinets are new.  This practical set of built-in furniture was made by Loughridge Cabinets in Scotts Valley.  When you walk into the mudroom/kitchen area from the side door you can park your groceries on the bench, hang your hat and coat on the hook, and sit on the bench to take your shoes off.

Speaking of the mudroom, we did use a piece of the old mudroom in our new kitchen.  The breadboard on the wall was re-used on the breakfast bar in the kitchen.


In our old kitchen the gas water heater was next to the stove, strapped onto the wall.  The gas stove and the water heater shared a flue going up through the ceiling to exhaust above the roof.

 

As you enter the front door you’ll see this tidy shoes storage to your right.  We ask all visitors to take their shoes off in our house and this is one of the places where you can store them.

 

Also made by Loughridge Cabinets, the concept of the Japanese “getabako” is expressed in the arts and crafts style.This is built back into the wall and protrudes through the dining room. In the dining room the back side of the shoes storage cabinet looks like a nice stand.

 The buffet is the original built-in furniture that stayed in place during construction.  It was covered up for 13 months while the crew worked around it.

French door between the dining room and kitchen is also original piece of the house.

 Finally, I added a touch of Japanese influence in this arts and crafts house by re-using my other’s old kimono as cushion covers.

Floor

January 4, 2013

The house we bought in September 2010 had several different flooring materials:  wood, vinyl tiles, linoleum and carpet.  We were confident that the white oak in the living room and the dining room would refinish nicely and wanted to have Marmoleum in the bathrooms.  The other rooms were unknown.  As the deconstruction progressed we saw that the other rooms had fir floors.  Taylor, our general contractor, convinced us that we should attempt to refinish the original fir floor before deciding to replace it with new wood or cover them up with Marmoleum.  Well, he was right.  The refinished floors are beautiful!

During the deconstruction phase (December 2011) asbestos abatement specialists came in to remove materials containing asbestos, including 9-inch vinyl tiles in various rooms.  Then the floors were covered with cardboard paper while construction went on for the next several months.  As the project neared the finish stage the floors were sanded 4 times:  twice using medium grit sanding material (60 and 80) then twice again using fine grit sanding material (120 and 150).  The numbers refer to the CAMI grit designation.  Then waterborne wood floor finish called Bona Mega was used to finish the floor, applying and drying 3 times.  This product is GREENGUARD certified for indoor air quality.

Living Room

Before:  Living room floor was in decent shape.  There were some termite damage on the south east corner and some staining from prior floor covering.

After:  Termite damaged pieces were replaced with new white oak that blended well.  Wood was sanded and stained.

Dining Room

Before:  The floor in the dining room was also white oak and in decent shape.

After:  Dining room floor was sanded and stained.

Kitchen

Before:  The kitchen floor was a light pink and brown vinyl tile.

During Construction:  This is what the kitchen floor looked like after the tile was removed and mastic scraped off.  At this stage it was difficult for us to imagine what the refinished floor would look like.

After:  The fir floor under the tile sanded down nicely and works well with the cherry cabinets.  Amazing!

Mudroom

Before:  The mudroom floor was the same type of light pink and brown vinyl tile that covered the kitchen.

After:  The fir floor under the tile was sanded down and stained.  Few pieces that were badly stained were replaced.  The result is a “distressed wood” look that is popular with homeowners.  We were told by the floor subcontractor that people pay extra money to get the distressed look!


Middle Bedroom

Before:  The middle bedroom had a linoleum floor.

After:  The fir below the linoleum refinished beautifully.

South Bedroom

Before:  The south bedroom had light brown carpet.

After:  The fir floor under the carpet has the distressed look after sanding and refinishing. Note the closet opening is wider now and you can see evidence of the smaller opening on the floor.

Master Bedroom

Before:  This room had a very colorful vinyl tile.

After:  The floor under the colorful vinyl tile was also the old tight-grained fir that refinished nicely.

Master Bathroom

Before:  The master bathroom was covered in white vinyl tile.  Termites had a feast in this bathroom and a good portion of floor had to be replaced.

During Construction:  The floor of the master bathroom was badly termite eaten.  In fact, we saw some live termites in this area.  Most of the floor in the master bathroom was replaced.

After:  We selected Marmoleum (this is a linoleum product brand name from Forbo) to cover the bathroom floors.  Marmoleum is made out of renewable, sustainable materials.  This is another material you can buy at GreenSpace in Santa Cruz.

If you’re interested in learning about other flooring material, I invite you to take a look at Green Remodel Forum.

Kitchenette => Master Closet

Before:  The kitchenette was covered in brown vinyl sheet flooring.

After:  The kitchenette will become the master closet.  The fir floor under the linoleum refinished nicely.

Hallway

Before:  The hallway floor was covered in red and brown vinyl tiles.

During Construction:  This is what the hallway floor looked like after the tile and the mastic was removed.

After:  Like other rooms the fir floor was sanded and stained after the vinyl tiles were removed.  There were few damaged areas that needed replacement.  It was quite fortunate that our contractor was had old fir he removed from another job that could be re-used to patch the floor in the hallway.

Hallway Bathroom

Before:  The hallway bathroom had a white linoleum floor.

After:  We used a white Marmoleum to cover the hallway bathroom floor.

Kitchen and Mudroom

December 14, 2012

We kept the same total footprint of the house — interior usable space of 1,569 square feet.  The room layout stayed the same, with the exception of the kitchen where we knocked down the wall between the kitchen and the mudroom and took the space from the bedroom closet.

Old layout

The original house had an exterior door into the mudroom that held the washer and dryer.  The kitchen had 3 openings.  One opening between the kitchen and the mudroom, a door leading to the hallway and another door into the dining room.  The sink faced the west windows and at the left end of the countertop was the ventilated vegetable storage (aka California Cooler) where the exterior wall had vents.  The gas-fired water heater was in the south-east corner next to the gas stove and range.   A ceiling fan vented to the outside could be operated by pulling the chain.  The north wall had a cute built-in cabinet.

The new layout

The new layout still has a mudroom, but there is no longer a wall separating the mudroom from the kitchen.  The door into the mudroom extends out to a small deck where we’ll have a outdoor gas barbecue.  A bench and cabinet is placed on the south wall and this is where we’ll hang out coats and take our shoes off.  Looking straight in from the mudroom door you’ll see a little desk area where we intend to do paper mail sorting, recipe lookup and such.  Pantry is next to the desk.  The breakfast bar wraps around the outside of the sink, countertop and cooktop.  There is no longer a door to the hallway and the cabinets cover the east wall.  We have 2 sinks in the hopes of having 2 cooks in the kitchen working side by side in peace.  The door to the dining room changed from the swinging type to a larger pocket door.

Here are some “before photos” of the original kitchen.







Mudroom:  As viewed from the kitchen.  Washer and dryer took up most of the space in the mudroom.  Note the bead board wall behind the washer and dryer.  Speaking of wall, the kitchen had the lovely funky plastic fake brick thing above the wainscoting.

Kitchen sink:  The kitchen sink and the countertop was a little taller than the standard countertop height I’m familiar with.  The windows above the sink and countertop provided pretty afternoon light.  On the right side of the sink is a vegetable storage space known as “California Cooler.”

California Cooler:  The upper and lower vents next to the lattice fence provided the cool breeze to flow through the wire mesh shelves to keep the fruits and vegetables fresh.  If you’re curious about the California Cooler, read what another blogger wrote about them.

Fridge, Stove, Water Heater:  The gas water heater in the kitchen was literally placed in the center of the house.  The seismic strapping prevented the use of the cool “ironing board feature,” (we think).  The gas stove/oven was a O’Keefe & Merritt from the 1950’s.  It was very cute but we didn’t want to have any gas combustion appliances in the house so it was sold on Craigslist.  The refrigerator was only about 5 years old and it too got sold on Craigslist.

Hidden Chimney:  When our designer took measurements of the house there was a small amount of unaccounted space between the closet and the kitchen.  This mystery was solved during the deconstruction where a chimney was revealed in the wall cavity behind the water heater.

Upper Cabinets:  A cute glass door showed what was stored in the cabinets.

Lower Drawers and Bins:  Below the upper cabinet was a countertop covered in blue linoleum.  These bins in the kitchen must have been used to store flour or some grains back in 1920’s.  As charming as these were we chose not to keep them.

Here are the “work-in-progress photos” of the new kitchen:

Mudroom Bench and Cabinets:  The door to the mudroom is to the right of the bench and we’ll probably use this door 90% of the time.  So, we’ll come in through the door and kick off our shoes then place them under the bench.  Next hang the jacket on the hook.  If we were riding our bikes and we had helmets and gloves they may go in the upper cabinet.

Desk and Communication Center:  The little desk in the corner of the mudroom will be used for day-to-day household paper and communication.  The slots above the desk will be used to sort mail.  Under the desk will have network devices and the desk will have a small computer that will display the house monitoring data (energy consumption, temperature and humidity).  To the left of the desk is the pantry.

Pantry:  Next to the desk is the pantry with pull-out drawers.

Upper Cabinets:  The kitchen cabinets are made of cherry wood in Shaker style with soft-close mechanism for doors and drawers.  Crown moulding a the top that bridge gaps between the cabinet and the soffit adds just the right touch to make the kitchen have the arts and crafts feel without being too fussy.  Loughridge Cabinets of Scotts Valley made these and we’re really happy with their workmanship.

 Countertop:  In these two photos you’ll see Taylor applying adhesive to the top of the cabinet then fitting the carefully cut PaperStone countertop with Jacob’s help. We looked at various materials for the countertop and the breakfast bar.  Going to a retail shop where you can see green product samples as well as get information from knowledgeable staff made a big difference.  We shopped for the countertops and breakfast bar in the spring of 2011 by going to Ecohaus in San Francisco (now closed) and GreenSpace in Santa Cruz (still open!!) and looked at many different green countertop products.


There are many different types of materials and color choices within each product line.  If you’re considering the pros and cons of different materials I invite you to take a look at the Countertop page of Green Remodel Forum where there is a detailed description of various materials by attributes.  Our selection criteria came down to 2 key points:  sustainability of the material and aesthetic fit with the California Bungalow style.  We chose a product called PaperStone in mocha color for the countertop.  It’s a sensible product that is made with FSC certified post consumer paper product held together with petroleum-free resin.  Details of the PaperStone material can be found here.

Tile:  For the kitchen backsplash we used the Debris series from Fireclay Tile which is made with 60% recycled material in the Bay Area.  While many distributors carry Fireclay tile we liked visiting the showroom in San Jose.  Picking out a dozen different sample tiles and taking it back to our kitchen to see which best matched the color scheme was very helpful.

Re-using the bead boards:  Remember the bead boards on the wall of the original mudroom?  They were re-used to surface the breakfast bar.

Reuse and Recycle

January 30, 2012

I want to roll back the calendar a couple of months to share some thoughts on re-use, recycle and diverting waste from landfill.  You know, it takes resource and energy to make “stuff” whether it be kitchen appliance, table, chair, television, clothing, etc.  When we throw stuff away because it is broken, old or got replaced with a newer model the stuff becomes trash taking up space in a landfill.  On both ends of the lifecycle of “stuff” there are some cost and some limits.  Natural resources are limited and the space for storing our trash is limited too.  In fact, when I look at our utility bill from our local municipality the largest component of the bill is for garbage — It costs more to have my garbage hauled away than the cost of clean water and sewer service!

By the way, in chapter 7 of Scott Huler’s book, On The Grid, you can satisfy your curiosity on what happens to the trash and recycling material after they are picked up by the garbage truck.  If are really curious about systemic impact of the stuff we consume I invite you to take a look at The Story Of Stuff.

So, if we can maximize the use of our stuff or lengthen its life we can avoid taking up space in the trash dump site and also reduce the demand on natural resources.  Makes sense, right?  This means re-use of stuff is good and recycling of stuff is good.  Reuse means that the stuff gets a new life under a new owner.  For example, the cute antique O’Keefe and Merritt gas oven/stove has a new life in someone else’s kitchen rather than going to a landfill.  Recycle means that the item is processed and transformed to another useful item.  For example, some of the wood removed in the deconstruction of the house will be mulched and will begin its new life on someone’s landscape.

Again, reuse is good, recycle is good and we want to avoid sending stuff to the landfill.  [end of rant, thanks for your patience]  Below are some examples of reuse and recycle of of stuff in our project.

Furniture
The non-profit organization, Furniture for Families, took our dining room table, chairs, bed, dresser, television and microwave oven.  This all volunteer furniture bank provides qualified clients who are referred to them by caseworkers from social service agencies familiar with the specific needs of the clients.

Dining Room Table and Chairs

Appliances
We gave away the washer and dryer to someone we knew that had a broken one.  Listing the items for $5 each on Craigslist was quite effective in getting the refrigerator and gas oven/stove sold and hauled in a couple of days.  The toaster was donated to Goodwill.

Refrigerator and Antique Oven/Stove
Window and Door
One of the people who came to take a look at the antique gas oven/stove, an antiques dealer, didn’t like the stove.  But he ended up buying the front door, window and the desk.  You just never know what they’re interested in.

Front door

Reuse
Some of the lead weight removed from the double hung windows went to our Passive House air sealing consultant, Terry Nordbye, for use in one of his projects.

Lead weights from double-hung windows

Recycle
The recycled wood is mulched at the dump. The reclaimed wood is still on site in the form of skip sheathing that we can use for this project or others.  All the interior trim was salvaged and is now in the shed.

Wood for mulching

Deconstruction
The crew of Santa Cruz Green Builders did a terrific job of deconstruction and separating various items to be recycled.  Huge dumpsters were delivered to the job site.  The summary from the receipt from the city of Santa Cruz shows 82.6% recycle/reuse percentage by volume.  Details in cubic yards are:

Recycle/Reuse  (95 cubic yards)
20 concrete and plaster recycled
42 clean wood recycled
4   metal
3   sheetrock recycled
3   concrete rubble reused
20 dirt reused at another site
3  wood reclaimed

Garbage (20 cubic yards)
20 painted wood (cannot be recycled) and garbage

Wood for recycling
Trash

Salvage Company
Whole House Building Supply and Salvage runs a pretty neat operation where they offer 3 different options for helping you give your stuff a new life.  It’s a good source for reuse items.