It’s Saturday morning laundry time. The washer spins and shakes, clothes are cleaned while the dirty water flows outside to irrigate fruit trees. There’s something satisfying about this
simple shift: a slight change in a mundane chore has reduced water consumption, taken a load off the sewer treatment plant, promoted food security, and saved time and money.
Over the past few decades reusing water from showers, sinks, and washing machines, called greywater reuse, was mainly embraced by the “do-it-yourself” community. Handy people rerouted their pipes, diverting this resource away from sewers and septic systems, out to trees, bushes, and other landscaping. Though popular, all this was technically “illegal”, surprising in a state like California, fraught with drought, water rationing, and proposals to spend billions of dollars on new dam construction.
Greywater use is regulated by the state plumbing code, which historically was very restrictive and made it overly expensive or outright impossible for people to get permits for greywater. This resulted in almost zero compliance of the code (of the estimated millions of greywater users in the state, there were only a few hundred permits), a lack of professional installers, and a huge amount of misinformation about the best ways to reuse greywater.
In 2008, Alan Lowenthal, a State senator from Long Beach, CA, wrote a “Shower to Flower” bill (SB 1258) that mandated a code rewrite of the old greywater code, moving regulatory power from the Department of Water Resources (DWR) to the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). HCD convened a series of stakeholder’s meetings to gain input from greywater experts, health departments, building departments, water districts, and other concerned citizens, as well as analyzed existing studies and codes on greywater.
Recipe for a code change:
* 3 stakeholders meetings in Sacramento
* hundreds of letters, emails, and phone calls in support of a friendly greywater code *drought
* increased water rates
* mandatory water rationing in many districts
*extensive time and research from HCD staff
*greywater friendly codes examples in Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico
*media coverage of greywater success stories
*green job potential
Mix ingredients together during a time of “drought emergency”, sprinkle a few newspaper articles about people successfully (yet illegally) saving thousands of gallons of water with simple, safe systems, add a dash of green jobs potential in a failing economy,
season with forward thinking individuals in charge of the process.
Results: A new greywater friendly code
The new code removed barriers for simple, low cost greywater systems. Now washing machine systems do not require a permit, only compliance with state-published guidelines, and no inspection. Permits are still required for systems that alter existing plumbing, larger systems, and the section of code governing indoor reuse is not complete.
Gardens are flourishing
The biggest effect of statewide greywater reuse, aside from the happy plants, will be the ability of professionals to incorporate greywater into their business Landscapers like, Deva Luna from Earthcare landscaping in San Jose (www.earthcareland.com), offers greywater to clients. Other gardeners like David Mudge from David Mudge’s Gardens in Martinez, California, use greywater as part of sustainable permaculture design practices.
a greywater garden
The greywater goes out of the house through the floor and travels across the crawl space underneath the house. The auto-vent is inside the house since it needs to be at the high point of the greywater line.
Our water future
While greywater policy advances, California water policies lag behind. State government and local water districts continue to seek out unsustainable sources of water; from destructive new dams, overdrawing from rivers and ground water, costly desalination plants, and expensive recycled water. As regulatory barriers are removed, decision makers need to include and promote sustainable practices such as greywater reuse, rainwater harvesting, and waterless toilets as a path to a sustainable water future.
There are a few things people could do.
1. Write a thank you note to HCD for the new code: James Rowland firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Write to the local building department/inspectors/city council telling them how happy you are that it’s easier to install legal greywater systems and encourage them to support greywater use. (possibly by promoting it with education, demonstration projects, information on their websites, etc.
Laura is a founder of Greywater Action and has spent a decade exploring low-tech, urban sustainable water solutions. She has a BA in Environmental Science, a teaching credential and a masters in education from New College of CA. She is a co-editor of the anthology Dam Nation: Dispatches from the Water Underground
Greywater Action offers presentations and hands-on classes on sustainable water use technologies. See www.greywateraction.org for more info.
Peter Rich of Peter Rich Architects in South Africa has dedicated his career to the service of the less privileged. His projects include low-income housing, community centers and children’s facilities. The Mapungubwe Interpretation Center in Limpopo, South Africa, a project recently completed, looks to the local culture and ecology for its design inspiration. Situated in the site of an ancient trading civilization at the confluence of the Pimpopo and Shashe rivers the in Mapungubwe National Park, the building houses artifacts from the region’s early pre-historic civilizations and reflects the complex natural landscape around it in both form and materiality.
Employing parabolic curves made from locally sourced and fabricated rammed earth bricks, the resulting structure is both elegant and sustainable. Rich worked with local residents during the design and construction process, teaching them how to manufacture the stabilized earth tiles and how to construct the vaults and arches. These vaults, called Timbrel vaults, create a composition of light, billowing forms that seem to peel away from the structures below, revealing the history inside. The building is contained by two hollow cairns, which are reminiscent of the route-markers found in the native South African cultures of the region.
The building, both in its creation and in its final end use is deeply rooted in its site both culturally and physically. The center is meant to not only display the cultural history of the site, but also to elicit a better understanding for the vulnerability of the local ecology. The building has been nominated for several awards including the Holcim Award for Sustainable Construction in 2008. The structure won the World Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival in Barcelona, 2009, being praised by the jury for its ‘hand-crafted intelligence, use of local materials’ and the way it “handled issues of sustainability and its relationship to the landscape, responding to vernacular African styles’.
Plus Energy Settlement Weiz, Germany architect: Erwin Kaltenegger photo: Gunter Lang
- photo: Binder Holz
photo: Binder Holz
The San Francisco Bay Area is rich with examples of Green Architecture, and is arguably on the forefront of the green building movement. Many people here have heard of the Passive House Standard, but not many really know what it is or how it works.
In essence the term “passive house” represents the idea that these houses do not need to rely on large, conventional heating systems that require lots of energy to provide heat. Instead they passively recycle the free heat generated from sunlight and activities within the home, and are supplemented by smaller heating systems that require far less energy to run. Turning lights on, running the refrigerator, cooking, using a computer, and the people provide a constant source of free heat. This heat is contained inside the building envelope and is recycled by transferring it from outgoing stale air to incoming fresh air through a heat recovery ventilator. The houses are so well insulated and air-tight, that warm air does not escape through the building envelope and cold air isn’t allowed to creep in.
If you compare a Passive House with a conventional home, a Passive House is up to 80% more energy efficiennt, indoor air quality is superior, and the buildings themselves are more comfortable to live in since the temperature does not fluctuate.
It is critical that we start applying t he Passive House concept before relying on alternative energy sources such as solar or wind energy. Think of it this way: only using solar power as a remedy against energy waste is similar to resolving the problem of a leaky gas tank by ignoring the leak and filling up with biofuel instead of gasoline. It might make us feel better, but it doesn’t change the fact that our gas tanks are leaking and energy is being waster. They help, but ignore the core problem, which is our buildings are energy hogs.
Here in the Bay Area, where our climate is relatively mild, it is one of the easiest places to reach Passive House standards. We have no excuse for building structures that waste heat and require us to turn on our heaters. In summer, we can turn off the heat-recovery ventilator and throw open the windows and doors to enjoy the nice weather. In winter, the mechanical heat-recovery ventilator can be used to allow the building to “breathe” without wasting energy. Fresh, filtered air is circulated 24 hours a day, resulting in better indoor air quality and energy efficiency.
Buildings are responsible for 40% of all energy consumed and Green House Gas emissions. Clearly, the building sector needs to reverse this trend to avoid the possible catastrophic consequences of climate change. The best way to achieve this is through energy efficiency. The Passive House Standard has been tested throughout Europe over the last 15 years and is a proven strategy. Researching this standard and adapting this know-how and experience to our building industry is the fastest path to designing and building projects that perform to higher standards of energy efficiency, comfort and improved indoor air quality.
photo: Internorm Windows
photo: Internorm Windows
Nabih Tahan, AIA, MRAI is a licensed architect who returned to Berkeley from Austria to remodel his home while demonstrating sustainable design and construction techniques being used in Europe. He is the founder and a principal of BauTechnologies.
For a few weeks in the fall the Solar Decathlon will transform the Mall in Washington D.C., stretching out before the Capitol Building into a laboratory for Green Architecture. The competition, sponsored by the US Department of Energy, brings students from around the world together to test the houses that they have designed, built, shipped and reassembled themselves. These houses represent the latest innovations in technology and the best and brightest design talent.
photo: Annessa Mattson
Each successive Decathlon brings stiffer competition. This is the fourth time the event has run and this year we are impressed by the waves of innovation not only in sustainable building practices, but in aesthetics. Green architecture does not mean ugly architecture after all! Team California brought home the Best in Architecture for their 800 square foot home that is as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside.
photo: Annessa Mattsonphoto: Annessa Mattson
photo: Annessa Mattson
From the drawing board to the flashing details, the architecture and engineering teams were working hard to ensure the design intent came through in the finished product. The team, comprised of undergraduate architecture students from California College of the Arts and engineering students from Santa Clara University, has been working for a full year to design and build their house. Like all truly green architecture the house is designed specifically to suit the climate where it will ultimately reside in Northern California. Green features include passive solar design with maximized south facing glazing; a 8.1-kW photovoltaic system on the roof with panels that are integrated into the architecture; a radiant floor and ceiling system that both heats and cools the home; a seasonal greywater pond that feeds the landscape, including an edible garden terrace; and materials and lighting chosen with careful consideration to embodied energy and lifecycle.
photo: Annessa Mattson
- photo: Annessa Mattson
It’s not often that architecture students are challenged to actually build what they’ve put onto paper. The engineers were a critical part of the team, helping the architecture students to problem solve as the construction began. The house was constructed over a course of 9 months on Santa Clara’s campus. The end result of the collaborative effort is quite stunning.
The design allowed for the building to break apart into three pieces and be loaded onto trucks for the long ride to Washington DC for the big event. On the mall the house had to be pieced together, and all the finishing touches re-applied to ready the house for the throngs of visitors who descend upon the mall to tour the houses.
photo: Annessa Mattsonphoto: Annessa Mattson
photo: Annessa Mattson
- photo: Annessa Mattson
The houses were judged in 10 areas including Architecture, Engineering, Market Viability, Net Metering (energy production vs. consumption), and Communications. All of the scores from each contest are totaled for the overall Decathlon winner. This year’s winner is Team Germany, with Illinois, and Team California close on their heels. Team California took home first in the Architecture and Communications categories and second place in Engineering. Congratulations, Team California, and thank you for showing us how beautiful green architecture can be.
photo: Annessa Mattson
Photo: Stefano Paltera/US Deptartment of Energy Solar Decathlon
photo: Emily Hagopian (www.EmilyHagopian.com)
As architects, we weave the complexities of program, design, regulations, technology, budget and fee, while managing clients, projects, and liability. Proposed changes to our workflow frequently interrupt our momentum. Changes to our design process that seem burdensome ultimately transform our work and improve our buildings. The process of commissioning is new to many of us, and we are finally learning how to make it an effective design tool.
USGBC introduced commissioning to us by way of LEED-NC EA prerequisite 1: Fundamental Commissioning, and EA credit 3: Enhanced Commissioning. For most of us, our first question was, ”What is commissioning?” Fortunately there are several resources and industry experts, who are helping us understand this improvement and clarification to our evolving design process.
Let’s start with some definitions:
Building commissioning (Cx) provides documented confirmation that all building systems, including mechanical, electrical, lighting and controls function according to criteria set forth in the project documents to satisfy the owner’s operational needs.
A commissioning agent (CxA) typically provides commissioning services as a consultant to the owner. On some LEED projects the CxA is hired by the architect.
There are several documents that must be sequentially produced in order to satisfy LEED requirements:
Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR): Produced by Owner with Design Team & CxA assistance
Basis of Design (BOD): Produced by Design Team with CxA assistance
Commissioning Specifications: By Architect/Spec Writer with CxA/ LEED Consultant assistance
Commissioning Plan: Produced by Contractor with CxA assistance
Installation Verification & Performance Testing: By CxA & Installing contractors
O&M Staff Training: By Installing Contractors & CxA
Building Manual: By General Constractor with CxA assistance
Summary Report: By CxA
The intent of the commissioning process is to create the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR) along with the program during pre-design. Unfortunately, most projects are well into design development or construction documents before a LEED consultant is hired and the commissioning process begins. So, ultimately the OPR is merely an exercise to satisfy LEED rather than being a useful design tool.
In an “integrated design” process, commissioning begins during pre-design. Architects must coach their clients to complete the OPR during pre-design. Once the OPR is created, then the design team, led by the architect and engineers with the assistance of the CxA (or LEED consultant on small projects), produces the Basis of Design (BOD). From the BOD flows the project specifications, which require a commissioning section in addition to a LEED requirements section. As the design changes, the OPR and BOD should be updated to reflect those changes.
At the beginning of construction the contractor takes the lead by producing a Commissioning Plan, which is outlined in the specifications. The CxA will facilitate a pre-construction meeting with the installing contractors and engineers to establish expectations and ensure that the design intent and commissioning requirements are understood. The CxA will work with contractors during installation and start-up as required to meet LEED requirements. Performance tests and construction photos provide backup documentation, which must be available for audit by USGBC.
At the completion of construction a building manual will be produced by the contractor. O&M staff must be trained along with full time occupants of the facility. The CxA will produce a Commissioning Report, which summarizes the entire Cx process for the project. Frequently, this report is the last document uploaded into LEED online before the construction phase submittal to USGBC. Add another 5-8 weeks before the project received certification from USGBC.
We recommend the following resources for additional information and instruction:
EDR Commissioning Handbook & Online Templates www.energydesignresources.com
USGBC: Who Can Commission? www.usgbc.org/ShowFile.aspx?DocumentID=1262
Commissioning On Purpose, by Coleman & Coleman www.eeiengineers.com
US Dept. of Energy Building Toolbox www.eere.energy.gov
Commissioning Resources www.michaelheacock.com/toolslinks/commissioning.html
Michael Heacock + Associates is a LEED consulting firm with offices in San Francisco and Santa Barbara. Their work includes schools, commercial, public, institutional and residential projects.