Conservation

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities

This week, we updated the green roof demo at EcoHouse with some Sedums! A green roof or living roof is a roof of a building that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane. Green roofs are a beautiful and cost-efficient way to conserve energy, manage storm water, and insulate a building. Continue reading

Power all with the Powerwall!

If you haven’t heard of the new Tesla battery, you may be living under a rock. Tesla’s new battery is the talk of the town and it’s everywhere in the media. Why? It aims to take homes and businesses off the grid. Continue reading

RAIN Home Visit Series Post 3: Downspout outlets

This is the third post in the RAIN Home Visit Series. This post will pick up where the last post left off. Once eaves and downspouts are effectively draining water off your roof it is time to consider what is happening to the water once it exits your downspouts.

That question of when it rains – where does the water go? is still relevant. If during the walk around your property you notice any downspouts empty into an underground pipe chances are it is connected directly into the municipal storm sewer. Connected downspouts increase the risk of structural damage because they drain water directly next to your foundation. Most of these systems are decades old and likely cracked and leaking. This is no longer a recommended engineering practice, yet many downspouts remain connected.

For the City of Hamilton’s stance on downspout disconnection see the following link:

http://www.hamilton.ca/CityDepartments/PublicWorks/WaterAndWasteWaterDev/Downspout+Disconnection.htm

For instructions and advice on how to disconnect downspouts see the following link from the City of Bremerton, Washington:
http://www.cityofbremerton.com/content/dd_downspoutdisconnections.html

Once all downspouts are disconnected it is time to look at your property more closely. The path water travels along the ground will have everything to do with the way your property is graded and landscaped. During that walk around your property take note of all slopes and low spots on your property. If your property is sloping towards your house, this must be corrected to ensure water always runs away from the foundation. Take note also of the hard surfaces (patios, walkways) and soft surfaces (garden beds, lawns). Downspouts should empty onto soft surfaces a minimum of 8-10 feet and downhill from the foundation. 

The City of Hamilton has issued a Homeowners Guide to Lot Grading & Drainage document which provides the basics of proper lot grading.  This document does, however, lists the street as an acceptable outlet for rainwater. The next post in this series titled ‘From Rainwater to Stormwater’ will explain why sending rainwater to the street is no longer recommended best practice. The RAIN Home Visit program is all about keeping water on your property and allowing it to soak into the ground naturally where it will pose no threat to the foundation.

The safest starting point is directing water a minimum of 8-10 feet and downhill from the foundation. When directing downspouts always keep distance and direction in mind, both are just as important as the other.

In post number five of this series we will discuss more specifically where and how to keep water on your property so that it can soak into the ground before it goes from rainwater to stormwater.  

Case Study: A RAIN Home Visit

Main water related concerns:
• Multiple downspouts connected directly to aging storm sewer laterals
• Back and side yard area graded towards the house
• Moisture and effervescence in basement
• Downspouts emptying too close to the house
• Rain barrels often overflowing
• Worn asphalt driveway is graded towards the house

This house was chosen as a case study because it shows many of the issues that are address through the RAIN Home Visit program. I enjoyed my visit at this house, mostly because the homeowner was very friendly and welcomed my suggestions with an open mind. But on top of that – this home was a classic example of how mismanaging water outside can and will lead to issues inside.

This home is built in a neighbourhood where downspouts connect directly into the municipal sewer system. Connected downspouts are concerning from an environmental as well as a safety perspective. The bottom line is that I do not trust what I cannot see and there is no guarantee that those 80 year old sewer laterals are working properly. Over time they get clogged and cracked by things like leaves, soil, animal burrows, and tree roots. Most homeowner assume these underground pipes are doing their job, but moist basements tell a different story.

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This homeowner recently had the eaves and downspouts replaced. However, the grading of the eaves and position of the downspouts was not changed and they were connected right back into the municipal system. When replacing eaves and downspouts, take a look at the roof area and consider an ideal drainage method. Downspouts should be positioned 8-10 feet and downhill from the foundation onto a permeable area. Where possible, avoid placing downspouts on driveways and patios. During the tour of the basement I saw exactly what I was expecting to see – moisture. The area where the walls met the floor was damp, and the walls were covered in a white mineral deposit known as efflorescence.

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If you have efflorescence in your basement don’t worry, it is not toxic, but, it is a definite sign that there is moisture in the soil surrounding your foundation. Excess moisture in the soil applies pressure against your foundation, which is one of the causes of pressure cracks. Water is always looking to flow where there is less pressure – and over time can force itself through your foundation. Efflorescence is not a toxic concern, but it is a sign that action is needed to keep your foundation safe and dry.

The ground surface in the back and side yard being graded towards the foundation was another concern. The lowest point in the backyard was where the lawn met the foundation – an immediate sign that the area needs regarding. I noticed that about 6 inches away from the house the vegetation had changed sharply from lawn to a low growing yellow flowered ground cover. Sharp changes in vegetation means that the moisture pattern in this area is not what it should be (in this case the area next to the foundation was too wet for lawn to grow).

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Main lessons learnt:

• Disconnect downspouts from sewer laterals and direct them onto a permeable surface 8-10 feet and downhill from the foundation.

• Make sure the land surface is always graded away from the house to ensure water is flowing away from the foundation.

• Where possible, try to maintain an 8-10 foot ‘dry perimeter’ around your house where no water is soaking into the ground. Water can be safely absorbed into the ground beyond this 8-10 foot perimeter.

• Fully empty all rain barrels after each rain so the barrel has full capacity for the next rain event.

RAIN Home Visit Series – Getting water off the roof

This is the second post in the RAIN Home Visit series. It will answer that ‘where do I start’ question. Even though each property has its own unique drainage situation, there are still general guidelines that all homeowners should follow.

As mentioned in the first post – the most important questions for homeowners to answer is: when it rains – where does the water go?

Answering this question starts on the roof with the eaves troughs and downspouts. Before worrying about where and how to direct the water on the ground, you first have to make sure water is draining off the roof properly. During a heavy rain, take an umbrella outside and walk around the perimeter of the house, taking note of places where water is spilling over the eaves. Spillage and leaks may be from
i) old eaves that have moved, cracked, or pulled away from the roof,
ii) clogging caused by leaves, debris, and/or ice,
iii) not enough downspouts to properly drain the water.

Make note also of any water that is spilling out of the downspouts, which is the pipe that will take water from the eaves to the ground.

If either the eaves or downspouts are not working properly, water can spill out and pool beside the foundation. Allowing water to soak into the ground too close to the foundation is one of the main causes of moist/wet basements. On your walk around the house, make note also of any water ponding or pooling on the ground. In best practice, no ponding is acceptable, but a general rule of thumb is the closer this ponding is to the foundation, the more damage it can do. It is best to try and keep the area within 8-10 feet of the foundation as dry as possible.

Once the eaves and downspouts are working properly you have taken the first steps in protecting your property against water damage. From here, the next steps focus on what to do with the water once it makes its way through the downspouts.

The next post in the series will focus on i) ‘connected downspouts’, and why they are now widely considered malpractice in the industry, as well as ii) the importance of lot grading for adequate drainage, and iii) where and how to direct your downspouts on the ground.

Eco-Friendly Laundry

 

Just a little while ago we had the exciting opportunity to teach a group of adults about reducing water waste at home. Some of our tips included things like fixing leaks promptly, reducing time in the shower, and using tools like a toilet dam to reduce the water waste. We’ll be posting an article about all of that sometime soon, but the things we are the most eager to share are the ways you can reduce water and energy waste while doing laundry.

 

We all love our laundry machines. That wonderful electricity-powered invention from the 20th century saves us from the arduous task of hand-washing our clothes. Like many things though, our washing machines can create a lot of waste if not used correctly. If you’re buying new appliances, make sure you are getting energy-efficient ones. Whether you have energy-efficient appliances or not, you can still use these tips, and tricks to help you reduce waste and keep the environment as clean as your clothes.

 

Tip #1: Use Cold Water!

If you’re looking for a way to be more environmentally-friendly in your laundry room, the biggest thing you can do is switch to using cold water. Almost 90% of the energy used to wash your clothes goes to heating the water. While some people worry that washing in cold water will not remove the dirt from their clothes, most of us do not soil our clothes to a level that requires hot water to wash. Cold water laundry detergents have been formulated to get your clothes just as clean with cold water.

 

Tip #2: Ditch the Dryer

While dryers are convenient in their ability to have a load done in an hour, they hog a lot of energy and actually break down the fibers in your clothing. You can see how much damage it does every time you empty your lint filter, as that lint used to be a part of your clothing! There are many options for drying your clothing that is better for the environment, your energy bill, and your clothing. Indoor or outdoor clothing racks come in a variety of sizes and styles. The best indoor ones are collapsible, and sturdy enough to support the weight of wet clothes. While they may take up space in your living room, back yard, or balcony, they make up for by using free sun and air, rather than electricity.

 

Tip #3: Think Outside the Box

There are a lot of DIY options for laundry. One that we showcase at EcoHouse is the Laundry Pod, which is a small, hand-cranked laundry machine. It uses only 5 litres of water (compared to up to 125 litres for some washing machines!) and uses your arm-power for energy. While it probably isn’t the best choice for large families, it is a very handy tool for small loads or delicate pieces. Instead of running your washing machine with only a few t-shirts or pants in it, you can give this guy a try.

 

Another thing you can do is make your own powdered laundry soap. The recipe we have here costs about $0.09 per load, while other laundry detergents go for up to $0.59 per load. With ours we know exactly what goes into it, and we can customize the scent. Give it a try!

 

Home-Made Powder Laundry Detergent

Ingredients:

½ to 1 cup of shredded bar soap

1 cup Borax

1 cup washing soda

A few drops essential oils

Instructions:

Use a very fine grater to shave the bar of soap into small flakes. Mix well with Borax and washing soda until you achieve an even, fine mixture. Add essential oils and mix well. Store in a labeled, air-tight container. This recipe makes approximately 32 ounces of detergent; use one tablespoon (most loads) to two tablespoons (large or heavily soiled loads). Before adding the soap to your cold-water loads, mix the detergent in a container with some hot water until it dissolves.

 

Explanations:

Bar Soap is the most crucial ingredient, as soap gives the detergent its cleaning power. Several recommended brands to use include Kirk’s Castile and Dr. Bonners. Borax, also known as sodium borate, is a naturally occurring mineral that acts as a whitener and deodorizer. Washing soda should not be confused with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), as washing soda is sodium carbonate, also known as soda ash. It is available in the laundry section of the grocery store or in pure form from pool supply stores as sodium carbonate. It helps to remove dirt and odors, cuts grease, and removes stains, disinfects, and softens water. You can also add some of your favorite oil essence to give a nice fragrance to your detergent. Recommended amounts are one to two drops per load. Tea tree oil has the added benefit of acting as a disinfectant, so it’s great for washing cloth diapers, hand towels or linens from a sick family member. Eucalyptus is great for preventing dust mites. Lavender smells wonderful, and is very relaxing.

 

The next time you go to run a load in one of our favourite labour-saving devices, try one of these things to green your cleaning machine!

 

Written By Victoria Bick

Soak it Up! Permeable Pavement Workshop

As fields become roads and forests become buildings, storm water from heavy rainfall has nowhere to go but into the sewers. When the quantity of water in our sewers reaches capacity, the water (which may be contaminated with garbage, oil, and chemicals) is sent to Lake Ontario untreated.

Many people are bothered by the sight of water sloshing off dirty road surfaces into sewers and contaminating our water supply. While we can’t exactly eliminate roadways, there are ways to replace impermeable surfaces on your property with permeable ones. Permeable surfaces help soak up water before it enters storm sewers. The water filters through the ground and is cleaned naturally by the earth before being dumped into Lake Ontario.

Come to EcoHouse (22 Veevers Drive, Hamilton) on Saturday, August 13th from 10:00am to 12:00pm to learn about the conveniences and benefits of using permeable pavement. This FREE workshop will provide you with the information you need to create your own permeable driveways and walkways at home. Need hands-on experience? You’ll be helping to install a small section of permeable pavement on the property. Be sure to pay attention—there is a lot of information to absorb!

For more information or to register, please contact Kathryn 905-540-8787 ext. 114 or email water@greenventure.ca

Want to learn more information about how you can help control storm water? Visit www.slowrain.ca

-Evan Gravely