Recently, I spoke with LA Pomeroy, a writer from Holistic Horse Magazine to discuss Blackburn greenbarns ™ and, in particular, the idea of implementing some sort of water conservation system into farms. I thought it might make for a good blog topic while I’m at it. (Also, be sure to check out her article featuring “10 Eco-Friendly Tips for Barns” in the September issue of the magazine.)
In the past I’ve written about harvesting rainwater (sometimes called stormwater), which can be very effective for a barn due to its large roof. Greywater systems, on the other hand, are created from the runoff/greywater from household appliances like showers, dishwashers, and washing machines. Of course, you’ll probably get some runoff from wash stalls or washing machines in the barn, but the amount of greywater from barns is somewhat limited compared with the potential from the roof. (Although, the laws for rainwater harvesting vary state by state. For example, it’s severely restricted in Colorado.) Still, a greywater system is something to consider for your barn as well as your home.
In any case, the most important factor to consider regarding water conservation systems is your needs, i.e., how much water is needed to clean a stall or irrigate the land. Since the size of the system largely determines its cost, you’ll want to make sure your system is designed to take full advantage to collect and reuse effectively.
Once your system is in place (note: many states require a permit from your local or city government), greywater can be used for any non-potable (non drinking water) needs for your barn such as landscape irrigation, washing horses, and mucking stalls. While soap residue found in greywater can actually add nutrients such as phosphorous and potassium to the soil, which reduces the need to fertilize, it can also contain bacteria or other harmful microorganisms that can be harmful. Therefore, greywater should never be used on vegetable gardens.
More affordable systems tend to be above-ground, so careful planning will help maximize the useable space around the barn while accounting for enough greywater storage to fit your needs. Also, depending on your location, greywater systems must be located within a designated distance from certain facilities, such as domestic water lines or septic tanks. A design professional or plumber can usually help specify a location as well as the appropriate pumps and equipment.
Another item to consider towards conserving more water in your barn is updating or carefully choosing plumbing fixtures. If you’re currently building, make sure to incorporate water-efficient plumbing fixtures. Or, retrofit your old fixtures by swapping out faucet caps and showerheads (if applicable) for water-efficient fixtures. Also, while it may seem obvious to some, be sure to seal any leaks in pipes.
Finally, you might think about updating appliances to save water. While there are definitely upfront costs, savings over time can be significant, not to mention significant to the environment. For example, high-efficient washing machines use less than 28 gallons of water per load. Traditional machines use approximately 41, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA also states that toilet models from 1992 and earlier most likely use about 3.5 gallons per flush compared with 1.3 for a WaterSense (a partnership program sponsored by the EPA) labeled toilet. Using those numbers, that’s approximately $90 in annual savings on your water bill.
Another appliance that can make a large impact on your water bills (and heating bill) is the water heater. This might make more sense for your residence, but solar water heaters are as the name implies: powered by the sun. When installed for domestic use, you can receive a tax credit of 30%. Tankless water heaters or instantaneous water heaters also conserve energy and need to heat less water.
Listen to NPR’s report on greywater: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105089381