All posts by Brian Shassian

A Wet Wipe Problem

The efficiency of a well-designed system is often limited by the operations of the people who use them. In my most recent article, I covered “smart” technologies that help people make systems in their home more efficient. Buying the proper smart technology is a great place to start, but their effectiveness depends on the owner’s willingness and dedication to learn how they work and to use them correctly.

One of the largest, most taken advantage of, and least thought about system is the New York City sewer and sanitation system. On a daily basis, 1.3 billion gallons of safe drinking water is delivered, used and disposed of in New York. Most people don’t give much thought to the scale and complexity of this system because it is mostly out of sight (and therefore out of mind). However, in order to get this job done the sewer system requires 6,000 miles of pipes, 135,000 sewer catch basins, over 494 permitted outfalls and 93 wastewater pumping stations.

The New York Times recently covered an issue that has begun to jeopardize the effectiveness of New York City’s sewer system – the wet wipe. Across the country wet wipes have increased in sales by 23%, and the “flushable” assertion seen on many of the boxes actually may not be true in New York City, Alaska, California, Hawaii and Wisconsin. Unlike everyday toilet paper, “flushable” wipes do not easily disintegrate in water, and more often than not they become knotted with everything else in the sewer system that does not break down.

While the sanitation department does employ different systems to pull material out of the sewage, the screening equipment is capturing more and more every year, almost doubling the amount pulled out since 2008. The major problem is that 100% of the material needed to be pulled out of the system is not captured by the screening equipment. Anything that makes it through can cause damage to pumping and treatment equipment, and the increase in wipes in the sewer system means more volume that the sanitation department has to remove.

The issue begins with the consumer and ripples across the sewer system to sewer treatment facilities and back to the consumer. The cost of more maintenance, equipment replacements, and volume of sewage to be treated is passed along in the form of raised water rates.

In a perfect world, we would all stop using these “flushable” wipes. For those looking for an alternative, a bidet attachment can be bought for less than $50 and attached to any standard toilet.

Photo taken from:

Greening Apartment Buildings

Almost every environmentally conscious person has run into the old adage of Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. While this call to action is self-explanatory, what may be lesser known about these stages is that they are listed from greatest to least effective. By focusing on Reduce, the first and most effective stage, individuals can make significant energy saving contributions in even the smallest of spaces – a New York City apartment.

There are 4 categories that energy consumption in an apartment can fall under – space heating, space cooling, lighting, and plug loads. Whether you’re moving in for the first time or you’re looking to upgrade an old system, each category has many “smart” new ways to reduce energy consumption:

1: Space Heating: Old steam radiator systems are the bane of most apartment owners and renters because they have poor (or no) temperature control, which results in excessive over-heating and frequent under-heating. New products in development, like the Cozy from Radiator Labs, allow occupants to control when the radiator provides heat. The radiator is insulated and will only provide heat when the temperature of the room drops below setpoint and the fan turns on.

2: Space Cooling: Window air conditioners are great for cooling apartments without central air but lack any complex controls. If left on all day they drain energy from the city grid and can cost the user hundreds of dollars per month. However, Con Edison now offers programs for better control over window air conditioners for free. The coolNYC program lets Con Edison customers request a “smart thermostat” which runs individual air conditioning units on a predetermined schedule and provides control over the system through a smartphone app. Greater controls reduce the need to keep your unit running all day and gives users the freedom to consume energy only when necessary.

3: Lighting: Perhaps the easiest way to cut down on lighting load is to use more efficient bulbs. In the past the best option was compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL), but recently the market has seen an increase in LED sales. LEDs are typically more expensive than CFLs, but they can last more than twice the life of a CFL bulb, more than 20 times the length of a normal incandescent and still provide 85% energy savings over traditional bulbs.

4: Plug Loads: Even after electronic devices have been turned off, they continue to draw power from the grid if left plugged in. This type of energy is referred to as vampire loads or phantom loads and can add up to be a serious waste of energy. To combat this, appliances must be unplugged or the power strip it is connected to must be turned off. This inconvenience can be avoided by installing a smart powerstrip, which completely shuts off power to all appliances when it senses a main appliance is not in use. For example, if you were to turn off your television, a smart powerstrip would sense this and completely shut down your cable box, stereo and DVD player to avoid the vampire load. While these individual savings are not significant, the savings across the entire electrical grid can make a notable difference.