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Beverly Hills Shines Light On Urban Water Consumption

California has been devastated by a prolonged drought, causing Governor Jerry Brown to declare a statewide water emergency. That action, taken last June, implemented a mandatory 25% reduction in urban water consumption. Some of the state’s A-listers apparently missed the memo on the new water regulations, and that put the City of Beverly Hills in a bind.

To meet the state-mandated urban water consumption requirements, Beverly Hills implemented restrictions on outdoor watering, car washing and swimming pool usage.

Nothing.

The city sent letters to dozens of over-users. The letter included a request to reduce water consumption and a warning that future bills would begin accumulating punitive surcharges.

Still nothing.

The city was flooded with complaints that its residents were ignoring the watering restrictions. The State of California penalized Beverly Hills by assessing a $61,000 fine for its failure to meet water consumption targets, even though it recognized that the City was doing everything right in its bid to reduce water consumption.

In November 2015, the City sent letters to its highest water consumers, using data from its June to August billing cycle. The letters went to some of the city’s most expensive homes. The water bills in question ranged from $2,500 to more than $31,000.

The worst offender? Recording mogul David Geffen, whose 10-acre Warner Estate swallowed more than 1 million gallons of water in just two months. Geffen said that he’s been trying to get permission from the City to drill a well on his property to tap into groundwater for use around his property.

Other offenders include comedian Amy Poehler, developer Geoff Palmer, directors Brett Ratner and Max Mutchnick. Some of overusage has been attributed to leaking water lines, and the offenders have vowed to have them fixed. Others maintained that they had no previous knowledge that their water consumption was that high.

Despite the city’s get-tough approach to water usage, and its recent progress on curbing urban water consumption, it’s still falling short of the state mandated conservation targets. Officials acknowledge that the city may get fined again for missing the mark.

Prior to the water restrictions, the typical urban water consumption rate for the average Los Angeles resident was about 77 gallons per day. As of January, the average Los Angeles resident consumed 59 gallons of water – 2 gallons shy of the city’s reduction target.

Los Angeles has undertaken some significant conservation measures, including offering rebates of $3 per square foot for turf removal and replacement with drought-tolerant plants. Water conservation is something everyone can do, regardless of where you live in the country. If you’d like more information about water conservation strategies that you can employ here in Boston, please give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to show you how you can reduce water consumption in and around your home.

Photo Credit: Alejandro Basso, via FreeImages.com

What Can You Do With Rainwater?

Even if spring officially just hit the calendar, the weather has definitely been spring-like for most of the month. One of the characteristics of spring is the rains, which can sometimes cause flooding in areas that aren’t equipped to deal with a large influx of water. Here in Boston, sewers designed especially for rainwater can collect runoff and return it to the Bay. But lately, everyone from the engineers to the environmentalists have expressed concern that on one hand, not enough rainwater is being returned to the ground to replenish the local aquifers, and on the other hand, the rainwater runoff collects industrial contaminants (like motor oil and fertilizers) before it hits the storm sewers and results in contamination of the Bay.

So besides shunting it down the storm sewers, what exactly can you do with rainwater?

As-is, rainwater isn’t considered potable. It’s not clean enough to drink and may contain (or collect) biological and chemical contaminants that make a person sick, either immediately or over the long term. That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything with rainwater, though!

Some homeowners have installed rainwater collection systems to “harvest” rainwater and use it for landscape watering and gardening. Used this way, rainwater is actually returned to the natural aquifers, just like nature intended. Rainwater collection systems can be as simple as rain barrels that hold 50-75 gallons of runoff from the home’s roof, or they can be somewhat more complicated, and include cistern water storage and gray water collection. In this setup, homeowners install a separate plumbing system that can collect and distribute the non-potable water to gardens and lawns.

Rainwater toilets are also gaining traction among the environmentally conscious, and have caught the attention of the City of Portland, OR. Toilets use potable water – the same water that comes out of your tap. There’s no need for toilet water to be drinkable (except maybe if you’re thinking about the dog), but attaching the toilet to the municipal water supply is the easiest way to ensure that you have enough water to flush the toilet. Therefore, the overwhelming majority of toilets use ultra-purified water.

A rainwater toilet uses collected rainwater to provide the flush. The toilet fixture is no different than what homeowners have in place now. Depending upon local codes and whether the toilet is being used in a residence or in a commercial building, it may not be sufficient just to put untreated rainwater in the toilet.

A rainwater flush toilet must be plumbed separately from the municipal water supply, and once the toilet is converted to use non-potable water, you can’t just reconnect it to the municipal supply. (You’d need to replumb with fresh pipes if you wanted to convert back.) For commercial applications, the rainwater must also be treated locally with chlorine and/or UV light, and special filters may be required to block organic debris from entering the system.

The immediate benefit of a rainwater toilet (or other rainwater collection system) is that it reduces the use of potable water for applications that don’t require super-pure water. On a large scale, this would reduce the demand for treated water.

Rainwater collection systems are relatively inexpensive to install and depending upon the size and type of the system, can reliably collect between 10,000 and 30,000 gallons of water per year.

If you’d like more information about rainwater collection systems or plumbing for non-potable water delivery, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to provide a consultation.

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Thinking About A Low-Flow Shower Head?

Last week, I wrote about a nice little safety valve that will throttle your hot water supply in the shower if the temperature exceeds 115°F. The device is designed to protect people from a sudden increase in hot water temperature. This week, I’m still in the shower, but I’m thinking about water saving showerheads. Boston homeowners who are hoping to save a little money on the water bill may be considering a low-flow showerhead.

Most homes have a showerhead that was manufactured after 1992, when federal regulations concerning showerheads changed. The 1992 regulations prohibited the manufacture of showerheads that delivered more than 2.5 gallons per minute as part of a regulatory effort to conserve fresh water. Prior to 1992, showerheads could deliver about 5 gpm.

Today, low-flow showerheads on the market deliver between 1.5 and 2 gpm. Water-saving superstars may deliver as little as one-half gallon per minute. Some models have multiple spray patterns and adjustable flow controls. You can also find low-cost, single-spray heads relatively inexpensively.

When manufacturers first started marketing low-flow showerheads – fixtures that delivered less than the standard 2.5 gpm, consumers were less than enthusiastic. The reduced water stream made rinsing extremely difficult in some cases. Other complaints were based on the supply water pressure. Low flow shower heads that had a supply water pressure of less than 50 psi may not operate at all, while supplies that delivered more than 80 psi might cause low flow shower heads to operate erratically. Typically, water pressure in a shower supply is delivered at about 60 psi, but every house is different and actual water pressure may significantly exceed the standard.

Aside from operational complaints, low-flow showerheads vary widely in cost and can be thrown off their game by the gradual accumulation of debris and mineralization in the head. Additionally, low flow showerheads compensate for the reduced amount of water by increasing the pressure of the spray. This increased pressure can lead to early fixture failure, so you may find yourself replacing your low-flow showerheads more frequently. Some users also complain that their hot water supply isn’t delivered as hot as it was using a showerhead with a higher flow.

One option may be a device called a shower tower. Depending upon the model you choose, a shower tower may not be a DIY project. A shower tower consists of a combination of a showerhead and water jets that spray water from a vertical column that is installed on the shower wall. In addition, it’s tough to consider the shower tower a water-saving device, since you can use up to 5 gallons per minute when both the shower head and the jets at the same time!

If you are considering a low-flow showerhead and would like a recommendation, or would like to get a quote on professional installation for a shower tower or other shower fixtures, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating, at (617) 288-2911 and we’ll be happy to help.