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Friday, June 20, 2008

Our House Was a Very Very Very Fine House...

Lately I look around at all the gas guzzling cars that fill the great state of Michigan, and contemplate a summer of high energy costs, and try to think about all the things that I personally might do to help the planet out just a wee bit. Along these lines, it occurred to me the other day that one very nice way to save water would be to use the laundry water on my flower beds. I will admit, this was not entirely my own brilliant idea. I think I read it somewhere. Or heard the suggestion on the radio. Or dreamed it. I'm not sure. But here's the thing: it IS genius. I do, on average, ten loads of laundry a week on the "super-mega-large load" setting. I don't know how many gallons the washer takes to fill, but if you figure a tubfull for washing, another for rinsing, and that's 20 laundry tubs of water a week. That could sustain a whole lot of petunias.

It wouldn't be too difficult, either. My washer doesn't even drain into any permanent plumbing. It's got one of those old-fashioned black tubes that snakes out the back of the washer and hangs in the laundry tub into which it spits its contents. Now I'm wondering: could I rig up some kind of flexible hose to the end of that drain-pipe, and then poke the hose out the laundry room window, and attach a sprayer on the end, and water the flower beds at the end of every rinse cycle?

To be sure, this would be a little bit of a pain in the neck. It's hard enough to remember to put the laundry promptly into the dryer so that it doesn't get that old-gym-bag smell and have to be re-washed. So I can imagine that it might become somewhat inconvenient to have to run outside every time I hear a spin cycle start so that I can give the geraniums a drink before the pipe backs up and sprays water all over the inside of my laundry room...

I'll admit, there are a few kinks to work out in the plan. But isn't it a great idea?

And thinking of this excellent method of saving water (well, at least of recycling it; no one could accuse me of wasting much water on my garden, which I tend to leave to fend for itself against the heat of July, but there's really no reason to let so much useful water go to waste, now is there?)...anyway, thinking about all of this got me to thinking about the house we used to live in. Perhaps the loveliest house I will ever own in my life.

It was an old farmhouse, built in 1927. White clapboards on the outside, a Craftsman bungalow style with a porch across the whole front and a large double dormer on the second floor to create headroom for the main bedroom. Inside, oak floors gleamed from decades of polishing, and 10" wide wood trim glowed along the baseboards, the color of rich dark honey.

The house had plenty of quirks.
* Only one full bathroom, and that with a tub that stretched along the short wall under the eaves, so that you couldn't install a regular shower even if you wanted to, because you had to tilt your head to stand upright under the sloping ceiling.
* A second 1/4 bath downstairs. 1/4 rather than 1/2 because it was only a toilet, plunked unceremoniously into the center of what had once been the closet under the stairs. No sink. For that you had to go to the kitchen.
* A door to the backyard direct from the landing on the staircase to the basement, so that from the kitchen, you had to go partway down the basement stairs to let the dog in and out. (The benefit of this, however, was that Dog learned to knock on the screen door to be let in. Very handy. And so polite.)
* A separate key to unlock the door to every single room in the house. I spent a pleasant hour in the first week we moved in, walking from room to room with the box of old-fashioned keys, trying them in every lock, and leaving them where they belonged: one each for kitchen, study, main bedroom, bathroom, 1/4 bath, guest bedroom, main house door, and each of three closets. When I was done, I was left with one keyless closet and several leftover keys. Very mysterious.
* Plaster walls that were filled with the trunks of sapling trees for added insulation. (We know this because when we tried to install a wall-mounted microwave, the stud finder gizmo was telling us that the whole wall was studs, and we thought "stupid, cheap stud finder gizmo" until we started drilling into the wall and found it was filled with trees.)
* Fabulously bizarre pseudo-Chinese wallpaper from the 1920s on one dining room wall under the old-lady pink-and-silver cabbage roses we chose to remove when we first moved in.

The house had only 1400 square feet, but every inch of it was useable space. Large rooms opened directly into one another with none of the shenanigans of intervening hallways. It was on an acre and surrounded by 75-foot-tall maple trees, so that there were only a very few days in midsummer when we had to turn on the window air conditioners. It did have a railroad track running across the back edge of the property, used regularly by high-speed freight trains whose rumbling literally made the walls murmur and drowned out the sound of the television or a phone conversation. Details.

It also -- and lo! suddenly there was a segue! -- had two giant cisterns in the basement. Enormous rectangles of concrete, nearly 6 feet deep, these were originally designed as holding tanks for a system that caught rainwater runoff from the roof. There was even a simple motorized pump attached to a hose designed to allow you to use this water on your garden.

And this connection between today's need to be better to our planet and yesterday's house points out something that strikes me as an important fact. As we have "advanced" technologically, we have sadly forgotten things our great-grandparents knew were important. That conserving water was a good idea. That planting trees could keep a house cool. That energy (and vegetables) could be saved by centralizing a water source for washing and gardening. Those people back before air-conditioning and dishwashers and cell phones and the internet knew a thing or two more than we do about being nice to Mother Earth. These are lessons we would do well to recall.

If for no other reason than recalling them might keep me from having to run like a maniac in my pajamas while chewing a bite of waffle in order to water the garden when the spin cycle started. If only the house I lived in now had a cistern, I could just let that laundry water collect and then mosey on outside at my leisure to do right by the flowers once breakfast was over. What a wonderful new old new idea.


Dawn@Embracing the Ordinary Life said...

Love the discription of your house...I think you have an excellent point...we need to remember the lessons of yesterday (long yesterday) on how to conserve, cause we all know that no one knew how to conserve better than our grandparents.

Julie Pippert said...

This is so true, and such a great post. I love your idea.

I have a low water machine and it does drain into plumbing but I'm curious now. My soap would be safe (or so it claims---I use either Method or 7th Gen).

But we don't water our lawn---we've planted plants that work here and are trained to weather the weather, drought or flood.

Julie Pippert said...

Oh oops got distracted...meant to finish by saying so I don't feel too guilty using the kids' pool because I empty that out into the flower beds.

This is a clever idea you've got. More. :)

Aimeepalooza said...

I want to get those rain catcher barrels and use them to water my plants and lawn. Because, the rain water is not treated like our laundry water in sanitation plants. It doesn't have the chemicals added to keep our teeth healthy and kill bacteria...so it's better than the hose, sprinklers and laundry water. But the point is to double use the laundry water...could you buy one of those barrels to catch it and then use it as you have time rather than try to remember?

tara said...

to keep from running out of the house, couldn't you collect the water in a barrel (like a rain barrel only a laundry one) & then water when you had time or was the best time of day?

your laundry soap doesn't contain phosphates, right?

Janet said...

This is an excellent idea. Blue is the new green you know. Patent it if it's not already.

Kimmylyn said...

When did you do redo the place?? It looks GREAT. I love the colors and the new header.. Great job!!

I love that every door had a key.. your house sounds beautiful.

Mrs F with 4 said...

We do have water butts (I think you call them cisterns?!) on all our downpipes, which provides for watering all of the garden, and vegetable plot, throughout the summer. I would l LOVE to work out a way to use my laundry water, though I do have a low-water, high efficiency front loader.

I don't however, use the dryer at all in the summer, and only very rarely in the winter.

In the garden we only use organic fertilisers (peat is HUGE environmental no-no, by the way), make our own compost so we have very little waste (only diapers and a small amount of food). One black bag for a family of 6, per week), and recycle everything else.

But no, I don't weave my own yoghurt....

Good luck with hooking up a leak-less, un-overflowable irrigation system!

foolery said...

Are cisterns/rain barrels covered? I'm so out of it. But we are FREAKS about standing water here -- have to be, because our house -- and I mean this quite literally -- and the surrounding few miles have been GROUND ZERO for the California West Nile Virus problem. No standing water allowed.

You once house sounds lovely, though challenging (I live in an old, old house and I KNOW), and I LOVE your new banner!

Mrs F with 4 said...

We certainly have our water butts covered and sealed - with the four little sprats running around, I'm quite obsessive about it. We also have a HUGE mosquito problem, and I'm told West Nile too (immigrants.... we have NO idea...), so standing water is monstrously inadvisable.

That new banner, though, très chic!

Mr Lady said...

I love your old house. I think I want to live in it.

And I love this idea. I think I could never get it to work in my house, but I wish I could.

I also think this is a fine time to add that WHAT THE HECK HAVE I BEEN DOING? I have read ALL of these posts in my reader, but no comments yet?

Smack me the next time I go this long. Dang,, I suck.

MommyTime said...

Foolery, you are right about the mosquito issue, though I do love the idea of a rain barrel. If Aimeepalooza is getting one, then I might be able to also, since we don't live too far apart. (And Mrs F swears they are sealed.) Thanks for the reminder about the phosphates, Tara -- I'm at the end of the "evil" detergent I still owned back when I made the choice to go green, so once I start the new bottle, it will all be safe.

I am excited to try the Method laundry soap, Julie, as I use all of their other soaps and cleaners and love them.

As for a laundry line, Mrs F, oh, how I wish I could have one. Sadly, I have so many allergies to pollens (trees, grasses, and pretty much anything else with leaves) that I can't do line dry without ending up with clothes I'm too stuffy and itchy to wear. I do love that smell, though. It's almost enough to make me want to move to Albequerque with my brother and sister-in-law -- no pollens in high desert!


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