Gray Miscellany

Root Simple has a large, virtual dust bin full of news and notions not quite worthy of a full blog post. I thought I’d sweep a few of them into a brief missive.

Grey vs. Gray
In the great greywater vs. graywater debate I neglected to note a somewhat irrelevant factoid: Sherwin-Williams sells a paint color named after the actor/monologist Spalding Gray. When will Werner Herzog get a paint color?

OED Access
I couldn’t find my library’s online Oxford English Dictionary access. Then I did some digging and discovered it. For those of you in Los Angeles you can access the OED with your library card number here.

While you’re on the LA Library’s website, take a look at their scanned collection of vintage menus, including the Brown Derby and Cocoanut Grove.

America’s Hippest Neighborhood
The part of Los Angeles we live in or on the border of (the border region is disputed) is Silver Lake. Silver Lake is two words my brothers and sisters. If I downed a matcha latte for every time I’ve seen “Silverlake” I’d be a wealthy, if green tinted man. FYI, Silver Lake is named after Herman Silver, a water commissioner and city councilman from the early 1900s.  Perhaps we should rename our lake and community after Spalding Gray. Welcome to Gray Lake! But then, I suppose, we’d have the grey vs. gray problem.

While we’re on the topic of local news, the band Yacht, in their latest video, has included the beloved “happy foot/sad foot” characters from the rotating podiatrist’s sign that defines and delineates us from greater Silver Lake.

Have a great weekend and please enjoy this chicken playing Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro“:

This is why we have the internets.

Fifty Shades of Gray Water

I have a lazy request. Can someone with Oxford English Dictionary access please look up “greywater” a.k.a. “gray water” and/or “grey water?” I have nostalgia, for both the sake of creativity and personal sloppiness, for the pre-19th century era of DIY spelling, grammar and free flowing neologisms. Unfortunately we live in a more homogeneous and standardized world and I wince every time I have to write about the subject of reusing waste water for lack of clarity on how to spell greywater, gray water, grey water and/or graywater. I’d also like to see what the OED says about the first uses of the word.

Merriam Webster suggests “gray water” not “grey water” or “greywater.” Wikipedia goes with “greywater” as well as listing off all the variations. Wikipedia also suggests a word so unappealing that it’s almost appealing, “sullage.” Sullage, according to Merriam Webster, is “probably from Anglo-French *sollage, *suillage, from suiller, soiller to soil.” While I like the link with soil, “sullage” appears to be used interchangeably with “sewage.”

There is, of course the confusing problem of “gray” vs. “grey” with “gray” being more common in American English. “Greywater” is used by two out of the three American experts: Brad Lancaster and Greywater Action (the artists formerly known as the Guerrilla Graywater Girls). Art Ludwig rolls with “grey water.”

As for our competition to swap out the unappetizing “greywater” for a sexier new word, Root Simple reader Johnny (who has a terrific blog you should read called Granola Shotgun) suggests “H2Over” or “Rewater.” I’m going to go with “Rewater.” At least it would eliminate the grey vs. gray and one word vs. two word problem. Plus it dispenses with the puritanical association of gr***water with waste water.

Let us hope that “rewater” catches on and that the new Fifty Shades Freed movie (which goes with “grey” due to the British origin of this great work of literature) has a three way valve scene.

Water your Trees with Greywater

Ludwig’s Laundry to Landscape plans.

Root Simple reader MJ pointed out that I neglected to mention greywater as a way to deal with our drought challenged trees here in California. So, on this greywater Monday, I thought I’d round up some previous posts and links on the subject.

Laundry to Landscape
International greywater guru Art Ludwig has a set of free plans on his website Oasis Designs for a laundry to landscape system. I’ve built this system at our house and at a neighbors’ and can attest to its ease of construction and functionality. Make sure you read through Ludwig’s directions in their entirety or else you’ll blow out your machine’s water pump. And note that some California cities such as Pasadena have classes and rebates for greyater parts.

The Confusing World of Detergents
The combination of a dry climate and alkaline soils means that we have to be very careful about the sorts of detergents we use with greywater. Regular soaps and detergents will raise the pH of your soil. Your trees will look great for a few years and then suddenly die. Unfortunately, finding a soil-friendly detergent or soap is more complex than it should be. You can’t trust manufacturer’s claims of greywater compatibility. Here’s what Kelly concluded in a 2015 post:

As of today, we are still only able back three products without reservation for use in greywater:

• Oasis Liquid Laundry Detergent
• Bio-Pac Laundry Detergent
• soap nuts

ETA 8/14: Also, it looks like Fit Organic Laundry Detergent is safe as well. Thanks, Judy!

Sorry folks, I know that’s not a lot in terms of choice.

The following eco-friendly detergents are often listed as greywater compatible, but we have reservations about them. We recommend you research these products more on your own, and consider your own greywater system as well as the specific plants and soil you are irrigating before deciding whether these should be used or not.

Ecos: Contains sodium coco sulfate

Vaska: Has a D+ rating on the Environmental Working Group’s product safety database.

Lifetree: Has a pH level of 7

Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap: Fine for greywater use in general, but it simply is not a laundry detergent–it’s castile soap. You can wash your clothes with it, but the results won’t be spectacular.

The bottom line is that we only trust the detergents and soaps that Ludwig himself designed: Oasis Biocompatible Laundry Detergent and Dishwash soap.

Here are Brad Landcaster’s thoughts on soaps and detergents. Let me also note the utility of Landcaster’s books and website when it comes to all things water conservation related, especially how to grade and configure tree plantings to optimize rainwater irrigation.

One last and rarely mentioned issue, is if “greywater” should be one word or two or, in the neologistic spirit of “apisoir,” perhaps we need to invent a sexier word for reusing our water. Greenwater? Freewater? Leave a comment!

111 Cardoons, Medlars and Hipster Toilets

On the podcast this week, Kelly and I read and respond to listener questions and comments about cardoons, medlars and Toto’s Eco Promenade toilet! Here’s some links to the topics we rap about:

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Natural Cooling: The Fresh Air Bed

Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 8.04.38 AMTechnology, such as air conditioning, has a way of flattening the ups and downs of our life’s experiences. We trade seasonal heat and cold for a bland, indoor sameness. Prior to the late 1950s, when air conditioning appeared in homes and apartments, builders used to have to consider regional differences. After air conditioning you could build any house anywhere. You could replace walls with sheets of glass, overhanging roofs with modernist boxes.

Particularly in hot, humid climates houses often had a screened porch or balcony on which to sleep on a sweltering night. The early 20th century was probably the zenith of the screened sleeping porch.

Taft's sleeping porch. Photo: Library of Congress.

Taft’s sleeping porch. Photo: Library of Congress.

President Taft even installed one on the roof of the White House in 1910.

The early 20th century’s sleeping porch movement also had a bit an anti-modernity vibe. To mitigate the pollution and psychic toll caused by 19th century industrialization, sleeping porch evangelists recommended dozing outside in fresh air. Entrepreneurs marketed a number of solutions, in addition to sleeping porches, such as sheds, tents and the gadget I want to focus on in this post, the convertible indoor/outdoor bed.

Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 9.37.06 AMThe California Fresh Air Bed Company
A number of patents exist for space-saving built-in beds that can switch between indoors and outdoors (Charles Hailey, “From Sleeping Porch to Sleeping Machine: Inverting Traditions of Fresh Air in North America“). The California Fresh Air Bed Company of San Francisco marketed a bed that converted from an indoor sofa to an outdoor bed. A 1914 ad in the Pacific Medical Journal describes the device:

It is built half inside and half outside, forming a handsome davenport in the room, and an ornamental balcony outside. Can be used as a full size indoor bed or by a very simple operation converted into an outdoor bed. Can be aired all day and yet be concealed.

Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 9.37.17 AMIt’s a space saving mashup of the fold-up Murphy bed with the screened porch. It also reminds me of Thomas Jefferson’s alcove bed and the built-in ironing board in our kitchen. There’s a lot to say in favor of reviving the California Fresh Air Bed Company. I can say from personal experience, living in a house built in 1920, that space is at a premium. And, particularly in the late summer and early fall here in Southern California, it would be nice to be able to get some cool, fresh air at night. The downside would be all the light pollution: the overabundance of street lights, billboards, porch lights etc.

The Baby Cage

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 9.30.13 AM

A related and, perhaps, more harebrained outdoor sleeping arrangement was the window cage for your baby.

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An article on Mental Floss goes into greater depth on the brief reign of the baby cage which seems to have been a thing in England. You’d think that baby would get a bit cold and wet in London, but the “experts” thought the fresh air outweighed the cold and falling risk. There’s even a newsreel on the baby cage:

These days child protective services would stop by if you stuck your kid in a cage out the window.


The idea lives on, but only for cats, in the form of the Cat Solarium and in many homebrew kitty window solutions.

But enough about cats, what we really need is to bring back the California Fresh Air Bed Company’s clever indoor/outdoor bed. As many consider downsizing to smaller houses, space and energy saving furniture such as this make more sense than the oversized sofa sectionals that plague our modern mega-houses.