Category Archives: EFFICIENCY

Water efficiency guides and information.

Coolest Water Fountain


This spacey looking device is a real working public rain water filtering system called SKYWATER, developed in South Korea. Rain is collected from the ring and sent to holding tanks underground. When the flexible house is manipulated, water is sent back up thru the filtration system and out comes fresh drinking water. I have no idea why it looks the way it does but aesthetics aside, this is about the coolest water fountain I’ve ever seen.

Designer: Ji-youn Kim

Yanko Design


























The Hydroleaf

A Solar-Powered Rainwater Purification System and Drinking Fountain

By Katherine Gloede on January 12, 2011

Mostafa Bonakdar
, a design student from Tehran, recently launched a design for a solar powered rainwater catchment system. The Hydroleaf is a unique device that collects rainwater, then uses solar energy to power a water purification system which supplies a fountain on the same device.

The public hydration station features a photovoltaic solar canopy at the top of the structure that uses solar energy to power a water purification system. Rainwater is collected at the top of the structure and funneled through the purification system. A drinking fountain on the bottom of the Hydroleaf supplies the public with the purified water. The container is able to store up to approximately 60 liters of filtered water. The solar panels also offer a small shelter, perfect for covering a park bench or acting a bus stop.

The Hydroleaf has come with some critique including possible impracticality of the device due its high energy use. The ability for the structure to withstand harsh winter weather or high wind has also been called into question. The design has also merited much praise as it is a self-contained system that utilizes clean energy for water purification. Should the design prove efficient and practical, the Hydroleaf might someday provide safe drinking water to the masses, greatly reducing dependence on plastic water bottles and giving more people access to clean drinking water. We hope to see these in cities everywhere in the future.

So Much Rain! Why Not Put It To Work?

Exasperated that our wet winters turn into water-scarce summers?              Get your own 1000-gallon rain barrel.

By Christopher Pollon, 24 Mar 2011,

DANGER: Drinking this toilet water could be hazardous to your health.

That’s the message required above every rainwater-flushing toilet installed at Vancouver’s Olympic Village, where water is collected from the roof, stored in a giant holding tank, and pumped as needed for each flush.

The sign is necessary, because bringing rain indoors breaches a fundamental orthodoxy of the North American plumbing world: behind the walls, pipes carrying potable municipal water mingle with those carrying potentially unsanitary rain. On paper, building codes for Vancouver and elsewhere in B.C. do not currently allow the practice of indoor rain water plumbing. In a post-Walkerton regulatory environment, there is immense discomfort on the part of building inspectors at the prospect of mixing private and public water supplies. (See sidebar.)

In spite of this, there are about 25,000 rain water capture systems operating across B.C. today — used to water lawns and crops, flush toilets and provide drinking water for people and livestock. There are about 5,000 rain systems on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands alone, in areas where seasonal droughts and dodgy well water make it a necessity.

As municipalities and cities explore ways to work with the deluge of water that falls from the sky (more than a metre of rain typically falls annually in Vancouver), the most promising use will be for irrigation of lawns and gardens in the near future. This could be good and bad.

“I have a worry that rainwater is starting to get trendy,” says Bob Burgess, a B.C. rainwater harvesting pioneer and founder of The Rainwater Connection which designs and builds all sorts of rain capture systems. “More and more people are doing it, and doing terrible jobs of it. It may not be too long before we have our little Walkerton for rainwater.”

Looking to the skies

A basic rain harvesting system captures water from a roof and channels it to a storage tank, where it is then pumped to where it is needed. Along the way, the rain undergoes any number of different filters and cleaning methods depending on the end use: to make it potable for drinking, it will require filtration and any combination of UV sanitizing and chlorine-injection; water strictly for watering plants will be cleaned less.

Big municipal fleets are among the early adopters: White Rock currently washes some of its trucks with rain, as does Vancouver; the Regional District of Nanaimo captures rain off two large Parksville recycling transfer buildings and uses it to wash their interior concrete floors.

Commercial greenhouses in places like Delta and Langley have already taken rainwater recycling to a high art: many operations capture and use rain for watering, then continually recapture from the soil, filter and reuse.

Toilet flushing with rain is more complicated, often requiring a separate indoor plumbing system to move it within the building, as well as time-consuming consultations with municipal building officials to get approval. (See sidebar.) Such projects often occur in big “green” building developments like the Olympic Village. Developers often earn points toward LEED certification for such water conservation measures, providing the incentive to go through all the trouble.

Then there are those who use rain water out of dire necessity — usually for drinking. As early as the 1960s, farmers in theLower Fraser Valley and on Vancouver Island started to notice their groundwater was being contaminated by synthetic fertilizers and manure. Burgess still gets regular calls from farmers looking for cleaner sources of water for their cattle, horses, and families.

Many rainwater drinkers started out like Burgess himself: he retired to a piece of land served by a bad well (he lives and works on Thetis Island in the Gulf Islands) — and looked to the sky for solutions.

He says 75 per cent of the people currently using rain for potable water in B.C. have no choice; another 25 per cent have the option of drilling a well (with no guarantee of success), but choose rainwater. There is also a tiny but growing number of people who want to conserve water for the sake of conservation — a move that also provides more control over the contents of the water. (See sidebar for ballpark rain system costs, including potable.)

A barrel of possibilities

Burgess says using rain for irrigation holds the greatest promise in changing how residential consumers and many municipalities consume and conserve water.

Each summer, the demand for treated water almost doubles across the Lower Mainland, due almost entirely to lawn watering, at the very time when rainfall is lowest. Peak summer water demand typically occurs sometime in July each year, when the masses are soaking their lawns to keep their grass green. It is this peak demand that drives the costs of our entire water system — everything from budgeting water needs to determining the size of our pipes.

“The single best thing municipalities could be doing is providing the means for Mr. And Mrs. Smith to have a 1,000 gallon rain barrel full of water in July,” says Burgess. He says ubiquitous rain watering systems, fitted with a simple fixture to allow rain tanks to be topped up with municipal water as needed at night, would solve the costs and strains of meeting this peak demand.

A high quality rain irrigation system: rain travels down the roof, through a black debris box (which filters out fir needles and organics) into the 520 (imperial) gallon tank. The tank has an overflow to storm water drain, and a first flush diverter pipe (to same drain) to flush away the initial water that comes off the roof during a rain — which is the most polluted water.

Many others agree. As lawn sprinkling rules get moreonerous, rain harvesting is going to start making more sense, says Bruce Hemstock, a principle at Vancouver landscape architects PWL Partnership — which designed the Vancouver Convention Centre’s 2.4-hectare “living roof.” “Summers are starting to get a little longer and drier, and we’ll get to a point where we won’t be watering our lawns [with potable water] at all.”

What needs to change?

Kenneth Chow says rainwater irrigation has a bright future, and he should know. Chow is a “building code consultant” with Pioneer Consultants — basically an enabler who helped Olympic Village developers earn the “equivalencies” required to get rain water toilets installed and approved. He says using rain for irrigation is much simpler, cheaper and safer than trying to put it in toilets — and you don’t have to post those silly hazard signs either.

“If we use rain harvesting for irrigation, it’s very low risk, and much easier to control the hygenics of the water… if there’s a mistake, the consequences are minimal. A plant might get a little water with bacteria in it, but there’s already lots of bacteria in the soil.”

He says regulatory agencies need to sit down with experts and “publish” the basic rules that will govern how rain water systems are designed and built — instead of evaluating each system on a case-by-case basis, and forcing developers and other aspiring rain harvesters to devise custom “solutions” every time.

Discussions to this end are already happening: last year the City of Vancouver engaged in talks with Metro Vancouver, industry and neighbouring municipalities exploring sanitation standards for rainwater. This includes adding chlorine to stored rainwater to protect municipal potable water supply — in the same way we currently use chlorine to treat water for swimming pools.

Burgess has practical suggestions of his own. “Allow the use of [rain storage] tanks as tall as the legislated fence height, (like this one) and make it so they can go anywhere within a foot of the property line. That one little change would take away a whole bunch of hassles for people.” [Tyee]


Let It Rain

Green infrastructure strategies for cheap, effective, and beautiful rainwater management

January 2011

By Katharine Logan

Perhaps my most vivid memory of architecture school comes from a studio in which we built a model of a neighborhood design,and then poured water all over it. The trick was to use enough little pieces of sponge in the model, representing rainwater retention strategies at a variety of scales, so that no water spilled onto the floor. Across North America, regions and municipalities are now trying this trick for real. Why? Because the centuries-old approach of piping water off the land as fast as possible and dumping it into waterways is failing fast.

Each year in Philadelphia, a city with some of the oldest combined storm and sewer infrastructure in North America, billions of gallons of sewage over-flow from 164 outfalls into the city’s creeks, streams, and rivers during major rainstorms. In Milwaukee, a hospital study shows the number of children with serious diarrhea rising whenever the city’s sewers overflow. Run-off pollution from suburban and agricultural sources threatens New York City’s drinking water supply. And it’s estimated that every twenty-four months, rainwater run-off from the streets of Seattle flushes into Puget Sound a volume of oil equivalent to the Exxon Valdez spill.

Nor is the impact on water quality the full extent of the problem—the effecton water quantity is just as devastating. Conventional engineering practice treats rainwater as a problem to be carried off the land as quickly as possible. Under such circumstances, in a matter of hours pipes dump as much as a hundred times more water per minute into a stream than the stream, whose banks have stabilized over millennia, can accept. This wreaks havoc on fish habitat. In Vancouver, British Columbia, there were once over fifty salmon- and trout-bearing streams—by 2009, there were two.

Patrick Lucey is an aquatic ecologist and urban geographer, and one of the designers of the rainwater management system at South East False Creek, a LEED Platinum-certified neighborhood that served as Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic Village: “In shifting to sustainability by design,” Lucey says, ”we’re really talking about shifting from a 2,000-year-old engineering convention to a fundamentally new approach to municipal infrastructure.” This approach is a form of biomimicry, a system based on nature’s implicit design principles, which he sums up in three steps: capture, store, beneficial use.

Starting at the rooftops, green roofs at South East False Creek retain and use a varying amount of rainwater, depending on the season. Water that isn’t captured on the roofs is caught in basement cisterns. Until it’s used for landscape irrigation or toilet flushing, water from the cisterns circulates continuously through neighborhood water features. Not only does moving water delight human beings, the movement aerates it and exposes it to sunlight, which keeps it at a level of quality good enough to swim in.

Once it reaches the ground, water at South East False Creek is kept in the open. Streams that were once piped and buried have been brought back into the daylight. Site water makes its way across a variety of permeable and textured surfaces either to a bioswale on the eastern edge of the project or to Hinge Park wetland on the site’s western edge, and from there to False Creek.

Key to the success of South East False Creek’s rainwater system is the difference between total impermeable area and effective impermeable area. The green infrastructure at South East False Creek makes a high-density urban development behave in the watershed like a site with an impermeable area closer to zero. Along False Creek’s rehabilitated shoreline, herring have spawned for the first time in decades. “That’s amazing,” says Lucey, “herring are very sensitive. That must mean you guys got it right.”

A little further south, but still in rain country, Portland, Oregon’s pioneering work in rainwater management has produced some of the most inspiring examples of street edge rain gardens anywhere, winning awards two years in a row from the American Society of Landscape Architects.

The SW 12th Avenue Green Street Project, built in 2005, converts an underutilized stretch of ground between the sidewalk and the street into a series of four planters that capture, slow, and clean street runoff, and allow it to infiltrate into the earth. The planters effectively disconnect SW 12th from the conventional storm system, and handle the street’s 180,000 gallons of rainwater on site. More than that, planted with trees and well-composed plants, and with tumbled concrete pavers defining their place in the street, they’re beautiful.

Similarly, the NE Siskiyou Green Street Project, built in 2003, consists of two curb extensions, familiar as a traffic calming and pedestrian safety strategy, but with curb cuts to allow rain to flow into well-designed plantings behind them. Cheap and simple, the rain gardens manage NE Siskiyou’s day-to-day rainwater on site, and are projected to manage 85 percent of a 25-year storm.

As well as the technical success and aesthetic appeal of sustainable rainwater infrastructure, its cost-effectiveness warms its welcome with municipalities struggling to maintain outdated and overburdened pipe infrastructure. In Philadelphia, upgrading the existing combined storm and sewer system would cost over $10 billion. “There is no way in the world that we could ever pay for something like that,” Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter told an audience at the recent “Charting New Waters” conference in Washington, D.C. Instead, Philadelphia’s Green City Clean Waters program proposes to spend $1.6 billion to achieve a safe and sustainable rainwater management system using green infrastructure.

Philadelphia has set a goal of transforming at least a third of existing impervious cover in its combined sewer system drainage area over the next two decades into “greened acres” that will filter or store the first inch of each rainfall. That first inch, it turns out, is enormously significant. Except in Florida, most rainstorms in North America deliver less than an inch of rain per day. So if a site can infiltrate an inch a day, it will treat 80 to 90 percent of its rain on site.

An early adopter of green rainwater strategies, Philadelphia has already completed projects to reduce the imperviousness of its public domain, including the creation of raised bed vegetable gardens and rain gardens in school parking lots, tree trenches in road meridians, bioswales in parking lots, and sidewalk infiltration planters modeled after the Portland examples. Neighborhood basketball players particularly appreciate Philadelphia’s pervious asphalt basketball courts, which are dry enough to play on much sooner after rainfall than regular courts.

Not only is Philadelphia implementing the first inch strategy in the public realm, it is requiring it for any private development that disturbs more than 15,000 square feet of earth. As a result, rainwater management is integrated early in the zoning and building permit process.

The city provides information and support to homeowners wanting to collect roof runoff in rain barrels, disconnect downspouts to direct runoff to pervious areas, or use site slopes to create rain gardens. To encourage retrofitting commercial and residential property for on-site rainwater management, Philadelphia is phasing in an initiative, which separates stormwater billing from the water bill, and ties it to the impervious cover of the site.

The public response to Philadelphia’s green infrastructure agenda has been overwhelmingly positive (92 percent), according to the city’s water department. In response to its Green Streets Survey, the department heard the public say, “I love the idea! It would make us healthier and happier all around,” and “we are proud to be a model neighborhood.”

Katharine Logan is an architecturally trained and LEED-accredited writer based in British Columbia

This article appeared in the January 2011 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

Mission Plastiki—Catching Wind, Storing Rain:

David de Rothschild’s Quest for Pacific Plastic

Click on the link above to read the whole interview from circle of Blue Waternews

You mentioned the Plastiki as its own ecosystem in the middle of the ocean. Fresh water is a tiny percentage on this plant, tell me what you have learned about using fresh water in a closed ecosystem in similarities between living on Plastiki and living on Earth.

David de Rothschild: Water has been one of the most topical points of conversation on the boat from the very moment we began this project. One of the things we obviously wanted to do was work within our limit—mainly our energy limit. When we first started looking at different systems one of the first systems that was proposed to us was a very smart system that was based on the Namibian desert beetle. The system looks at evaporation and the differential in temperature to create condensation that then can be collected. We went through a number of trials and we discussed this with a number of experts. Michael Pawlyn, who is the concept architect and is a big advocate of this, is doing a big project on this called the Sahara Forest project, which is looking at this Namibian desert beetle for influence for the irrigation systems that they’re setting up. We went through to a number of different call-outs to various smart brain trusts on these issues, and to be honest with you, we came up with a blank in finding a very compact and suitable way of generating freshwater without huge amount of energy. If you start getting into things like reverse osmosis you really are talking about vast amounts of energy that are required, at least today.

David de Rothschild

One of the things we went for was just good, old-fashioned rainwater collection. We designed the cabin to be a one great water catcher, so the cabin roof is hooked up with four outlets. Every time there’s a downpour we fill up our tanks. And it becomes a real moment of the day. You will see every crew member take their clothes off and run outside and have a freshwater shower and make the most of those precious drops. Sometimes the school lasts a minute, and you can’t wash the soap off. And sometimes we’re getting showers lasting almost day to a day-and-a-half of solid rain that fills our tanks up—it is quite an extraordinary story on the first leg. We realized our limitation with the water. We had to make a few decisions; one of them was the garden. Halfway across from Christmas Island we had to decide whether the water was going to be for us, or the water was going to be for the garden. Obviously we chose us, which meant the garden suffered. This is one of our big challenges, and the big challenges that we see all over the world. We see communities that have no access to water and it’s very hard for them to make the choices between do I feed myself and or hydrate myself, knowing that without water I will be gone in 15 days. You cannot survive without freshwater. It was quite an extraordinary story, but oddly enough on the first leg it only rained one day and along with the rain I should make clear that we also had big bladder bags where we stored our water and had an allowance each day of three liters a day per person. It really became a mind strain because we really did start to go through our water and you know the wind wasn’t in our favor and the first leg was dragging on longer than what we anticipated and when we arrived at Christmas Island we were literally at the bottom of our supplies. I think that had a big psychological effect on me and made me very aware about how incredibly lucky we are in the developed world or in any part of the world where we can just turn a tap on and not even contemplate the journey that water has taken and the process its taken to flow out of our taps so easily. The water issue on board has always been one we contended with whether it was carrying enough water, or whether during re-supplies. It’s really become a big topic of conversation and really does highlight how precious a resource it is. Without water we are really in dire straits.

Energy Efficiency vs. Energy Conservation

By Josh SchellenbergPublished: 02 March 2010 6:05 PM UTC

Posted in: Energy Conservation, Energy Efficiency

From reading comments on and LinkedIn, I get the sense that there is a bit of misunderstanding about energy efficiency and energy conservation.  Here are the explanations that I use.  Please comment on how this compares and contrasts with your understanding of energy efficiency, energy conservation and the difference between the two.

What is Energy Efficiency?

Energy efficiency involves technology that produces the same end product while using less energy.  For example, an energy efficient air conditioner produces the same level of cooling capability while using less energy than the average air conditioner on the market. This technology is always changing because a device that was energy efficient 30 years ago is probably not energy efficient today.

Energy efficiency programs have become increasingly popular as global warming has become more of a threat.  As many people in the industry say, “the cleanest energy is the energy never used.”  For example, consider a business that installs solar panels on its office buildings, but does not replace its inefficient light bulbs and air conditioners.  If the inefficient devices were replaced by efficient ones, there may not have even been a need for the solar panels in the first place.  Clean energy powering dirty devices does the world no good.  For this reason, Barack Obama calls energy efficiency “the cheapest, cleanest, fastest energy source.”

What is Energy Conservation?

Although energy conservation is often confused with energy efficiency, it is quite different.  Both involve a reduction in overall energy use, but achieve that goal in different ways.  Conservation involves cutting waste of energy whereas energy efficiency does not.  For example, I can replace my old air conditioner with an energy efficient one, but can still waste energy by running it while I’m not home.  I may have been able to save more energy by changing my behavior or programming my thermostat as opposed to replacing my air conditioner.

Energy conservation has not been as popular as energy efficiency because it is often associated with sacrifice.  If I do not have my air conditioner on while I’m not home, I might be uncomfortable for a few minutes while the house cools down when I get home and turn it on.  If I buy an energy efficient air conditioner instead, I save energy without changing my behavior.  For utilities, it is also much easier to measure the impact of installing an energy efficient device because the energy savings do not depend on human behavior.

Is Energy Conservation Gaining Popularity?

Fortunately, there are many companies out there that are trying to create interesting solutions so that we can conserve energy without having to change our behavior as much.  Sensors can be used that know when someone is in the room and leaving the room.  In the near future, we should be able to use our phones to control home energy use.  If my home is unbearably hot when I arrive, I will be able to turn on the air conditioner when I’m 15 minutes away.  Once these technologies become more widely available, energy conservation will likely gain popularity.  Just remember… it’s not energy efficiency.  It’s energy conservation.

Josh Schellenberg is a Senior Analyst at Freeman, Sullivan & Co. in San Francisco. To contact Josh directly, send him an email at The opinions and views expressed at (and any typographical errors) do not represent those of Freeman, Sullivan & Co.