How to figure out if you need a water conditioner and then what type?

Hard water is a pain in the bum.  We spent years chipping white “glass” fragments our of our very poorly performing dishwasher before i finally read up on it to figure out that the problem was super hard water.  About 17 grains per gallon.  That is hard.  What i learned in trying to come up with a solution is that there are a lot of guys trying to sell you a water softener and a lot of choices that don’t pass the ” actually effective” standard.  As with everything, i don’t every believe anything someone who is trying to sell me something says, without at least two sources that are NOT trying to tell me something, confirm what the first salesperson said.

That said, here is what I found after I did extensive research into this topic several months ago and came up with the following conclusions:
1. We have very hard water in the Silicon Valley, mostly above 17 grains per gallon.
2. Scale busters and pH modifiers, magnetizers or other unique, untested solutions for sale out there that supposedly change the ionic nature of the salts in the water, do not work when tested by 3rd party testing organizations. They typically only work for people trying to sell them.
3. Water softeners, using either NaCl (sodium chloride or Table salt) or KCl(Potassium Chloride), are the predominant effective and cost effective systems that are not managed by a company, (Culligan,Life Source, etc.).
4. NaCl is about 25% the cost of KCl, but NaCl, because it contains so much sodium from the salt-NaCl, is hard on the waste water treatment plants, the bay ecosystem, cannot be reused for greywater or recycled water and basically ruins future use of that water until the NaCl is diluted out with unsalted water. KCl, however does not have any of these drawbacks and actually functions as a fertilizer that can be used for greywater and recycled water systems(purple pipe).
5. Managed systems work well, have a life span of approx. 2.5-4 years between changes of tanks(about $800/tank change), and are much less work than purchasing your own KCl or NaCl and adding it to the tank every couple of months. If you cannot comfortably lift many 40lb bags of salt, this may be the best option for you.
6. The scale in the water faucets, washers, dishwashers, etc.will eventually be destroyed by the hard water deposits. The soft water will largely prevent this type of degradation on these appliances.
7. You can use less detergent in washing, shampooing your hair or washing your hands. Your skin will feel slick and slimy(personal perspective).
8. Systems that have a flow rate guage that can determine how much water you actually use are much better at conserving water than systems that are based only on timers because the resin needs to be cleaned, chelated specifically, after a certain amount of minerals have been removed from the water and actually measuring this amount of water is much better than just guessing based on the number of days and the average water used per day.
Hope this helps you make an informed decision that is best for you and yours,

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Want to see our projects and what we are doing at them? Follow our jobsite blogs!

After my first and really revolutionary (for me) meeting at Remodelers Advantage ( last year in Charleston, South Carolina(great town), we decided to make a bunch of changes to our company and to our educational outreach, which is really,  the only thing we do for our marketing.  Historically, our marketing consisted of me giving talks to local city building departments, Build-it-Green, the statewide green building advocacy group(, and other nonprofit groups that ask us to come and talk to them about how we build our homes based on best practices and science based research and not based on “cause that’s how my dad did it and his dad did it before him”.  Besides my dad was a surgeon and i don’t think he even knows how to use a hammer.  I love teaching so it is good to spread the green building gospel and gives me my talking in front of people “fix”.

One of the things that we decided to start doing that we have not done before is to start doing a blog about and for each of our large jobs.  So many people walk by our homes, wondering what is going on inside, especially when they learn that we are building super high efficiency homes that use only non toxic materials and advanced, super secret, space age materials for our plumbing systems(PEX(cross linked polyethylene) which the Europeans have been using for decades) or triple pane windows(again, Europeans were there decades ago).  Sense a trend there?  Anyway, enough of wishing I was European. The point is, that a house under construction that you CAN’T go into is like a giant present under the Christmas tree with your name on it, and it is always Dec. 24th.

So, combining our desire to tell as many people about green building as possible with our hope to answer some questions about  “what is going on behind that fence” from the people who drive, walk and ride by our job sites and want to know more, we have started these blogs.  We will cover not only what we do at these job sites, but also what we think is important to anybody who lives in their homes and cares about their health or the health of their kids, energy efficiency, sustainability, home care and maintenance and how much time they have to spend taking care of their home instead of living it their home and trivial things like that.  If you are into that kind of stuff, please, continue to visit us here and visit our blogs at:

These are just starting so give us a chance to develop the content and I think you will be happy you did.  Hope to see you around and please, if you have any comments, questions or recommendations, I would love to hear them.


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The squeeky wheel gets the oil, or in this case the really loud, mad guy gets the water departments attention

I downloaded an application (app) from the Santa Clara Valley Water District(SCVWD) that allows the user to report water abusers, typically landscaping waste like watering in the middle of the day and/or watering the sidewalk, curb, the neighbors cat and anybody driving down the middle of the street.  You input your name, and take a picture of the wasted water and then submit it to the water district so that they can communicate with the owner to stop the waste.  In California, we have an extreme drought, and a lot of people and huge agricultural industry and yet we are essentially living in a big desert, so water is  our most valuable resource, except for Apple-s.

Recently, i was in San Diego where i say something similar at a park, where water was runing down the street and into a storm drain.  I downloaded a similar app for San Diego and reported said park.  The next morning, literally 12 hours later, at 8 am. the water district called me and asked me what i saw and if they could have the director of the park call me to get more information on where the leak came from.    I said ok, and less than an hour later, the guy called me and got the information that he needed and thanked me profusely.  It was awesome.

I did the same thing with the SCVWD application, to 8 different properties over the span of two weeks.  I never got a call.  Never got a response of any kind, from anybody.  That was 45 days ago.  Then yesterday I got this:

From: Xxxxxx  Xxxxxxxxx[]

Sent: Tuesday, October 28, 2014 4:00 PM


Subject: RE: Santa Clara Valley Water District case number 30548


The following report was filed by the case inspector:

Closed – Mailed Educational Materials

This case is now closed.  If you have any additional comments or questions, feel free to contact us again and reference the case number shown above.


Xxxxxx Xxxxxxxxx

Public Information Representative

Santa Clara Valley Water District

Drought Hotline:  (408)630-2000

 Use this link to add notes to the case:

I wrote a letter back stating my experience in San Diego, my experience here and why I cared so much about 10’s to thousands of gallons of water running into the storm sewers ever week(most of the places I had reported were big company sites run by previously noted giant techfruit, Apple.  I stated that water is precious they are the ones that are responsible for it’s distribution in the south bay.   I then stated that I would be seeing if the news agencies and the state water control board would be interested in hearing about their lax water conservation efforts.  That was yesterday.

Today, about 16 hours from when i wrote that letter, i got a call from a very nice guy from the SCVWD, thanking me for my time in reporting these water wasters and apologizing for the delay in getting back to us and telling me that they have been doing more than just sending educational materials and that they are in the process of putting more inspectors on these reports and that the typical response is less than 24 hours and that they were working on the application so that it gives you feedback as to the current status of your reported water waster and …. well, you get the idea.  I think he said all of that in one breath too.  I thanked him for his efforts, and his attention to this matter and that i had a few improvements to the application that would keep pissed off people like me from sending him letters like I did the day before.  He thanked me for my time and said he would talk to teh app developer himself.  He also explained that the water district is really powerless to impose fines or penalties.  That they can only report to the retailer who sells the water to the final user, after they have received three separate reports and had three separate conversations with the owner of the property and three separate times where the owner doesn’t do anything.  So, they are basically worthless to affect change.

So, the moral of this whole story is:  If you care a lot about something, nothing beats an angry letter saying that you will report this to the media and to the government, and being willing to do the hard work of following up on your threat.

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Two New Job Site Blogs for Earth Bound Homes

In an effort to share our experiences with the other builders and homeowners of the world, we have started to produce blogs with our really interesting projects.  These projects are going to be either new homes, or full gut remodels of existing homes.  Hopefully our readers will be able to gleen some information from these blogs so that they can learn from our experiences and avoid making the same mistakes that we have made in the past, and we hope that if you learn something or see us heading down the same path that you have mistakenly gone down in the past, that you can help us avoid your mistakes.  So please, feel free to chime in with your opinions or experiences, so that we can make these blogs a great learning expenience for everybody.

Our new blog pages are: and

We look forward to hearing from you.

Dave Edwards, PhD.

President, Earth Bound Homes.

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Our builder suggested pressure treated wood, Trex, or a Brazilian hardwood for a new screened in porch. Which is best?

Your question regarding decking material is a common one and the choices that you have been given are indeed the 3 intelligent options.
As is the case with most building materials each of these choices has its upside and downside, here is a brief summary of each.
Pressure treated lumber (PT)

This is wood that is treated with chemicals so that it is resistant to both insect damage and decay. It is going to be the least expensive option of those that you are considering, although still not cheap.
As far as green goes, pressure treated lumber is treated with chemicals which is inherently not good.
Alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ) and copper azole (CA) are the two most common chemicals used to treat lumber.
They are considered less toxic than the chromated copper arsenate (CCA) treatment they replaced in 2004, but both contain much higher proportions of copper oxide than CCA and can’t be handled like untreated lumber.
This is really more of a concern to the installer than to the resident of the home, but you might consider other options if indeed children will be crawling around on pressure treated lumber.

Trex is the trade name of a specific brand of composite type deck material and was the first product made from wood flour blended with recycled polyethylene bags. A number of companies now offer decking made of similar ingredients.
Wood-plastic composites have diverted millions of pounds of plastic from landfills, and the decking shows fewer of the defects that typically affect wood.
Composites are not, however, maintenance-free products.
Because they contain cellulose in the form of wood flour, composites can support the growth of mold and should be cleaned regularly.
Colors are likely to fade over time and deck surfaces can become “fuzzy” from wear. Formulations vary among manufacturers, as does the proportion of recycled plastic.
Cost wise composite decks will be more expensive than PT but less expensive than most South American Hardwoods.
Brazilian Hardwood

The trade name of the most commonly used South American Hardwood is Ipe (pronounced EE-pay) but can also be other varieties such as machiche or mangaris.
2008-10-28 2009-01-05 001 004These woods are dense, heavy, and highly resistant to damage from insects and moisture.
They fade from a deep reddish brown to silver with exposure to sunlight and can be difficult to stain due to their incredible density.
Ipé should last for many years outside without any chemical treatment, however it can be very difficult to install due to it’s hardness (3,500 Janka hardness, as opposed to 500 for pine).
Because of these issues if you use Ipe you should make sure that you use a contractor who is reputable and works with these woods regularly as there are many unique details that must be understood in order to install it correctly.
FSC Certification

The best way to ensure that any wood is green by nature is to insist on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood. This is wood that has been certified to have been responsibly harvested without exploiting native resources or labor forces.
It takes a bit of extra work to source and will likely be about 10% more expensive but it is the best way to ensure that your lumber does not come from clear cut forests and maintains the integrity of the forested areas that it comes from.

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What type of washing machine saves the most water?

This is a great question, one that more people should ask about their appliances.
While the Energy Star label used to be the standard for energy efficiency, it has unfortunately not kept up with technology as far as their standards for efficiency. In fact I challenge you to find a name brand new model washer that is not Energy Star rated.
Remaining Moisture Content

When considering the efficiency of a washing machine water use is indeed a key variable. However, the evacuation of water during the spin cycle (a measure known as Remaining Moisture Content) is perhaps the most important measure.
This is due to the fact that most of the energy used doing laundry goes to the dryer.
The best way to reduce dryer load is to start with the lowest possible remaining moisture content.
MEF and WF

The best resource for researching all of these measures is the Consortium for energy Efficiency at
CEE is a consortium of unbiased parties who rate appliances on the most important measures of energy efficiency.
For clothes washers you will see two measures:
MEF = Modified Energy Factor. This is a combination of Energy Factor and Remaining Moisture Content. MEF measures energy consumption of the total laundry cycle (washing and drying). It indicates how many cubic feet of laundry can be washed and dried with one kWh of electricity; the higher the number, the greater the efficiency.
WF = Water Factor. This is the number of gallons needed for each cubic foot of laundry. A lower number indicates lower consumption and more efficient use of water.
Find the model that has the performance that you are looking for and then cross reference it with a consumer site such as Consumer Reports to see how it rates on value and durability.

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What is the next generation of solar panels coming up in the near future and will the cost be dropping with that next gen? I’ve heard about 3d panels that collect more light.

Perhaps the biggest development in solar panel technology for residential
applications in recent years is the seemingly steady decline in price.
According to a study conducted last year by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, from 2009 to 2010 the price of a residential solar electric system fell 17 percent.
And this trend continues as the price of photovoltaic panels steadily declines with products flooding the market from low cost providers like China and Taiwan.
With current market prices combined with federal and state financial incentives we are getting very close to “grid parity”, the point at which the cost to generate electricity from alternative sources is equal to or less than the price of purchasing power from the grid.
3D Solar

The “3d” type of solar panels that you mentioned are really just a specialized version of a flat panel that allow for higher efficiency by trapping sunlight in a photovoltaic structure where photons bounce around for longer allowing more of them to be converted to neutrons.
This technology also allows for the collection of sunlight over a wider range of angles throughout the day making them more efficient.
The rub here is that the cost delta for these technologies generally far outweigh any increase in efficiency so really all that they are saving you is roof space.
The only compelling reason to explore this type of technology is if your roof space comes at a premium (i.e. you live in a high cost densely populated area like New York City).
Thin film

Traditional photovoltaic panels based on crystalline silicon modules are now encountering competition in the market from panels that employ thin-film solar cells, which has been rapidly evolving and are expected to account for 31% of the global installed power by 2013.
Thin film products although significantly less efficient than crystalline silicon, are far less expensive as well as easier to install as they are flexible and can be applied directly to roofs and walls in certain applications.
The downside for residential applications is that you need a lot of roof space in order to get enough production.
The real efficiency increases will come when thin film solar is integrated into products like roofing and siding and can be applied everywhere on the outside of the house
CQD Films

As far as actual “new” technologies go, researchers from the University of Toronto have recently made a breakthrough in the development of colloidal quantum dot (CQD) films, leading to the most efficient CQD solar cell ever.
These researches created a solar cell out of inexpensive materials that was certified at a world-record 7.0% efficiency.
I believe that this is where future technologies will go, towards inexpensively manufactured film products.
While films are less efficient as far as energy production goes, they will allow integration into other construction products allowing us to turn our buildings into energy producing solar collectors.

For more information:
To find out more about emerging solar technologies and costs check out the US Department of Energy’s SunShot initiative website here;


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