Friday, December 07, 2012

Can gray water keep landscapes green?

UVALDE – With water resources throughout Texas becoming scarcer, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research ornamental horticulturist is working with others to determine the feasibility of using gray water to irrigate home landscapes.

"There has been interest in and discussion about the possible use of gray water for irrigating home landscapes, but so far little formal research has been done to validate its practicality," said Dr. Raul Cabrera, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and Research Center in Uvalde.

Cabrera said gray water is essentially "soapy" water left after tap water has been run through a washing machine or used in a bathtub, bathroom sink or shower and does not contain serious contaminants.

He said while it is difficult to precisely estimate the statewide potential for water savings through the use of gray water and application of the technology needed, it may reduce household landscape water use by up to 50 percent, depending on the size, type of landscape plants used and geographical location.

"The average household uses as much as 50-60 percent of its water consumption for the landscape – grass, ornamental plants, trees, etc.," he said. "Considering that the average family of four produces about 90 gallons of gray water per day, if this was used to irrigate a landscape, it could represent a significant water savings."

Cabrera said this would be especially true for a large city such as nearby San Antonio, which has more than 1.3 million people in its metropolitan area.

"Implementing the use of gray water for landscape irrigation across the state could mean a tremendous water savings in terms of acre-feet of water, contributing to the water use and conservation goals of the recently released 2012 Water Plan," Cabrera said.

Using gray water is one of the easiest ways to reduce the need for potable water typically used in a home landscape, said Dr. Calvin Finch, director of the Water Conservation and Technology Center in San Antonio, which is administered by the Texas Water Resources Institute, part of the Texas A&M University System. The institute is participating in the gray water research, as well as providing funding.

Finch said the Texas 2012 Water Plan identifies more than 500 specific activities that, if implemented, would help meet the state's future water needs.

"One of the low-hanging fruit projects that is often overlooked is use of gray water from households," he said. "Research results indicate that with minimum precautions water from our showers, bathroom sinks and clothes washers could be used to meet up to 10-15 percent of our overall landscape water needs."

Gray water differs from reclaimed water in that it is not captured water from sewer drainage or storm-water systems and then run through a waste-water treatment facility, Cabrera said.

"Reclaimed or 'purple-line' water is used for irrigation by some large-acreage operations such as golf courses, sports fields and large businesses," Cabrera said. "But gray water is just potable water that has been used for fairly benign household activities and could be reused immediately or stored and used soon after its initial use.

"It is also not what is referred to as 'black' water, which is used water from a toilet or the kitchen sink, both of which have a higher potential for containing bacteria and other organisms considered hazardous for human health. In this regard, gray water poses a minimal risk, particularly if we look primarily at water generated from clothes-washing machines."

He said some southwestern U.S. states, including parts of Texas, already allow for the use of gray water under certain restrictions, such as irrigation through delivery by flooding, subsurface or drip irrigation.

"While gray water has little potential for containing hazardous organisms, such as coliform bacteria, these irrigation distribution methods are preferred to spraying in order to further ensure safety," he said.

Cabrera said collaborating entities working to evaluate the viability of gray water use include AgriLife Research, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Texas Water Resources Institute, Water Conservation and Technology Center and Texas Center for Applied Technology.

"Here at the Uvalde AgriLife center, we will be focusing primarily on evaluating the efficacy of gray water use on ornamental plants," he said. "We will establish a display plot of conventional and water-use-efficient ornamental plants that will simulate a typical Texas landscape, so we can evaluate the short-term and long-term effects of gray water on these plants and their surrounding soil."

Cabrera said one concern about using gray water on home landscapes is possible salt content.

"Some detergents may have a high salt content in the form of sodium, chloride or boron, which could potentially 'burn' a plant," he said. "Part of our research here will involve determining the salinity and specific constituents found in gray water and their effect on plants, plus determining the efficacy and function of irrigation systems."

He said there is also the concern that some of the constituents in soapy water might plug drip irrigation systems, thus requiring additional and periodic care and maintenance.

"Additional research will address how variations in water quality, such as soft vs. hard water, may affect the salt content and chemical constitution of the produced gray water and how it affects plant growth and quality" he said.

He said the Texas Center for Applied Technology, part of Texas A&M Engineering, would "evaluate the plumbing and delivery technology needed to retrofit a household" so gray water could be used to irrigate a home landscape.

"They will evaluate the routing and, if allowed, the possible capture and short-term containment, as well as any filtration needed along with the means by which it can be delivered to the landscape," he said.

He added if essential aspects of the initial research are positive, additional involvement might include microbiologists and health officials to address any perceived health issues or concerns.

"If the totality of the research validates the use of gray water, AgriLife Extension personnel would provide educational outreach to inform water management entities and the public about its potential utilization and the water savings it could represent at the local and statewide levels," Cabrera said.

Initial gray water testing and evaluation will take from nine months to a year, he noted.

"We hope the results will support the launching and development of a statewide initiative to conserve water resources that will involve many additional partners," Cabrera said

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Historic Pennsylvania Home Gets 21st Century Roof

Historic Home Gets 21st Century Roof

             KANSAS CITY, KAN. – When Irene Darocha relaxes in her West Chester, Pa. home, she's not alone. History surrounds her. Built in 1860, her historic home sits on land deeded to the original property owner by William Penn.

             "We're really caretakers of this home," says Darocha. "We're just the fourth owners of this house in the last 150 years, so it's a responsibility as well as a blessing. We live on land that was part of the first three counties established by William Penn in 1682."

             After moving into the three-story home 20 years ago, Darocha immediately started to restore the property, including the roof overhead. "We believe there was slate on the original home, but over the years that was replaced with wood shakes," says Darocha. "When we purchased the home in 1992 we reroofed with cedar shingles, but they wore out quickly and were a maintenance hassle."

             This past summer Darocha hired Dean Mainardi with Only The Best Builder LLC to replace the worn-out cedar shingles. "I've learned a lot in the past 20 years about what I did not want on my roof," says Darocha. "After doing extensive research, I selected DaVinci's ValorĂ© Slate polymer tiles. They return the original historic look to the home, but because they're made out of polymer they won't be as much trouble as the previous roof. This product looks authentic to the original house, but resists rot, impact, fire and insects, so it's virtually maintenance-free." 

            Mainardi and his team took extra care with replacing the roof on the historic home. "We used a man-lift with a moveable basket to work on the roof," says Mainardi, owner of Only The Best Builder LLC out of Medford, N.J. and a member of the DaVinci Masterpiece Contractor program. "Along with installing the DaVinci roofing, we also did the siding on the dormers and added in all of the copper valleys, gutters and downspouts. This was a labor of love and the finished product is outstanding."

             Darocha chose to create a custom blend of colors for the ValorĂ© Slate roof, combining the Milano blend of dark purple plus light, medium and dark gray slate tiles with black tiles.

           "I wanted the black added in to the roof so it would gain more attention," says Darocha. "The unique mixture of the five color shades looks terrific and very historically accurate on the structure. I wanted those specific colors so they could complement the natural shading in the original serpentine stone exterior of the home that came from a local quarry 148 years ago when the original structure was built."

             Mainardi, whose company services southern New Jersey, Delaware and the Philadelphia market, found the ValorĂ© Slate products easy to work with on the project. "This was my first time installing the DaVinci products, but it definitely won't be the last," says Mainardi. "I've already recommended these polymer tiles for other projects. Installation went very smoothly and the finished look is incredible. This was a 'win-win' for everyone involved."

             DaVinci Roofscapes has manufactured award-winning synthetic slate and shake roofing since 1999. The polymer roofing tiles are virtually maintenance free and far more cost effective than the natural product. DaVinci leads the industry in tile thickness, the tile width variety and the greatest selection of subtle earth-toned colors. Company products have a 50-year limited warranty and are 100 percent recyclable. DaVinci proudly makes its products in America and is a member of the National Association of Home Builders, the Cool Roof Rating Council and the U.S. Green Building Council. For additional information call 1-800-328-4624 or visit


PHOTOGRAPHY: Project photos courtesy of Nixon Images.



Indoor Study Lawns at Cornell

Cornell University students finding solace on indoor library lawns

Video and photos:

ITHACA, N.Y. – Students studying for finals at Cornell University are finding solace from a little piece of the outdoors that came inside this week, thanks to some creative minds at the school's Department of Design and Environmental Analysis.

Sections of turf are creating grassy oases of calm in the lobbies of Olin and Mann libraries, as well as Duffield Hall and the Physical Sciences Building. Potted plants and comfortable chairs are placed around the grass, encouraging students to lounge there during one of the most stressful times of the academic year.

Senior Ryan Allen-Parrot and junior Gilad Meron installed the projects, along with a "small army of people working with them," said Eveline Ferretti, the library's public programs and communications administrator.

"Being in touch with nature helps people be calmer, and they feel refreshed and productive," Ferretti said. "The library is the perfect place for it."

Meron first installed a lawn in Mann Library in the fall, noting that "it's great to see people willing to lay down in the grass and just relax there. The main goal is really to make people happy."

Marcia Eames-Sheavly, a senior extension associate at Cornell and director of the Garden-Based Learning program, said she understands the sod's calming lure.

"Sod furniture is thrilling, since, unlike other horticultural art, which may require a long period of time to come to life, it offers instant gratification. Students have responded to the joy of working hard and collaboratively, shoulder to shoulder, to plan and implement them, and then, to enjoy the seating, and witness others doing the same," Eames-Sheavly said. "We know from research that time spent in nature fosters diverse facets of our well-being, from cognitive function, to lower stress levels. They are easy to create, and do not require elaborate materials."

For tips on how to create your own indoor sod furniture or lawn, go to:

Association of Energy Engineers Upcoming Events

Association of Energy Engineers

AEE's industry trade shows (GLOBALCON, Energy Management Congress West, World Energy Engineering Congress) allow you to network with professionals and colleagues in the energy field, get up to speed on the latest energy management strategies and applications, and see the newest technologies first hand. AEE conference/expo events span the continental U.S., and explore innovations in energy efficient technologies for facilities, renewable and alternative energy, automated building systems, efficient HVAC and lighting systems, energy services, project financing options, and much more.

24th GLOBALCON 2013 - Energy, Power & Facility Management Strategies & Technologies

March 6-7, 2013 - Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia, PA

Contact: Ashley Clark, 770-279-4392 /

Decision makers from business, industry and government must now seek integrated energy solutions — solutions which assure both a secure and affordable power supply, and effective management of both energy and overall operational costs. Globalcon, presented by the Association of Energy Engineers, is designed specifically to facilitate those who need to get up to speed on the latest developments in the energy field, explore promising new technologies, compare energy supply options, and learn about innovative and cost-conscious project implementation strategies.




June 19-20, 2013 - Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas, NV

Contact: Ashley Clark, 770-279-4392 /

The Energy Management Congress West (EMC) is the largest energy conference and technology expo held on the U.S. West specifically for business, industrial and institutional energy users. It brings together the top experts in all areas of the field to help you set a clear, optimum path to energy efficiency, facility optimization and sustainability, as well as innovation solutions to improve your ROI.
You can explore promising new technologies, compare energy supply and alternative energy options, and learn about innovative project implementation strategies. The multi-track conference covers a variety of topics, many specific to the region.



September 25-26, 2013 – Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC

Contact: Ted Kurklis, 770-271-7869 /

We invite you to be a part of the nation's largest, most active buying venue for end user energy products and services – the World Energy Engineering Congress (WEEC). There's no better opportunity for your sales team to directly reach thousands of top energy management decision makers from throughout the U.S. and abroad. The WEEC expo is attended each year by the nation's leading energy professionals in business, industry, and government who seek the best solutions for all aspects of today's energy cost and supply challenges.
As an exhibitor at the WEEC, you’ll meet face to face with key buyers representing the commercial, industrial, institutional, and governmental segments of the energy marketplace. There's no better opportunity for your sales team to directly reach thousands of top energy management decision-makers from throughout the U.S. and abroad.