Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Outdoor Living

Here's another young company from Toronto doing a lot of promising work, they go by the name of HERO Design Lab. First I want to show you these amazing prototypes they did in collaboration with NOTCOT that I definitely hope they put into production. They're called "Tiki and Gnomes":

The gnome is a video projector and the tikis are speaker stands that look sort of like very stylized trees. It's an outdoor theater set up, designed to be completely weatherproof and all that. This is such a fantastic idea, I can't believe there aren't more things like this on the market. All they need is a giant movie screen that unfolds from another gnome (or whatever) at the press of a button, and they're good to go.

From HERO alone, there's the DR-1 Drying Rack:
It folds practically flat, but has more than enough racks and bars to handle your entire laundry load.
It cuts down on the energy used by your dryer, which I think has obvious benefits. Clothes dryers consume more energy than practically any other household appliance aside from your water heater, between 1800 and 5000 watts. Beyond that, it's a good argument that clothes should be more fresh if dried out in a soft summer breeze. If it were me, I think I'd want it in the shade, however, to avoid the clothes fading.

The item that really caught my eye was the RC-1 Rain Collector. They offer it in yellow and white to match the Drying Rack, but personally I prefer it in brown and white:
You put it under the drain spout from your gutters and it holds 45 gallons. If you live somewhere other than New York City, I'd imagine for the most part rainwater would be relatively safe for just about anything but drinking it, but they suggest watering the garden, washing your car, and washing the dog, all perfectly good ideas.

And this seems a good excuse to talk about something else. I'm on a bit of a water kick lately. I have begun in earnest collecting the water that drips from my upstairs neighbors' air conditioner. It is essentially nothing more than distilled water, which theoretically should be quite pure. I actually have a dissolved solids meter to test it for impurities--I know, kind of a weird thing to have, but my mom gave it to me. I have to replace the batteries in it first, though. Evidently the water from air conditioners can be somewhat saline, but I've been watering plants with it and they seem to be fine.

I'm wondering, if every drop of water from every air conditioner in New York City--and for that matter, refrigerators as well--was collected over the entire summer, how much water do you suppose that would be? How much less water would have to be pumped down from upstate New York?

I got to thinking further on the subject, and it occurred to me that plumbing needs to become much more sophisticated. This isn't ancient Rome; we're a planet in crisis. I think we're a little too smart for the basic water in/ water out principle of plumbing. Not every source of water in a building needs to be 100% sanitary, just the ones where it may end up in your mouth. In many other cases, a good quality water heater that heats water to near the boiling point is going to take care of all the rest of the bacteria. There is absolutely no reason why 99% of the "waste water" we produce can't be used for flushing toilets. Toilet water just should not be taken from the purified water supply, period. In fact, I'm beginning to think that the only water that should go right into the sewer is from the toilet.

I also recently heard about Planet Ark's Aware laundry detergent, which is so natural and biodegrades so quickly that you can use, at the very least, water from the rinse cycle to water your garden. Of course, you couldn't really expect a homeowner to use this, for Aware to always remain on the market or always be readily available. Perhaps washer run-off could have a valve to switch depending on where the water should go.

I'm thinking more about distillation, too. I'm thinking an entire house can basically be a water collection and recycling system. For instance, say you have a cistern for gray water, necessarily at ground level due to gravity. Every drop of rain that hits the house, every pipe leads there, every drop of water. Then you have a solar system heating the water, the water vapor travels up a pipe or something to a condensation panel in the attic, dripping into another cistern, and clean, distilled water is stored up there, maybe with an added pump for increased water pressure. There's still the problem of bacteria, and not all impurities are removed by distillation, but I'll let someone else worry about that.

What's left at the bottom after the water distills off? Cleaning products, remnants of food, skin cells, saliva and hair, cosmetics? What's to be done with this disgusting sludge? I can't help but believe there would have to be a combination of different enzymes, bacteria, and maybe things like algae that could absorb most of those substances and convert them to some useful byproduct.

And for that matter, what about toilet water? Certainly no one would want to know that their drinking water once contained their own pee and poop. I have been to houses, however, with leaky septic tanks and on-property wells where brushing one's teeth was not quite as minty of an experience as I might have liked. But why can't houses, in the backyard, for instance, have some kind of natural, biological system to mostly purify that water so that it could just be safely drained into the surrounding landscape? Again, I'd think there'd be a combination of plant species that would absolutely thrive on the nasties in toilet water.

It might be a tougher sell for us greedy Americans than even global warming. But less than three percent of the water on earth is fresh water. Two of that three percent is inaccessible, being frozen into ice caps and glaciers, being in parts of the world where no one lives, or running right back into the oceans. The potentially potable water we have is less than one percent of all the water on the planet. The United Nations considers us to be in a "water crisis." Gas isn't the only thing we're guzzling.

©2009, Ryan Witte

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