Sunday, April 27, 2008

Same old Same old.

I just noticed I had not posted anything here since Tuesday. We get busy, and time passes. So, although nothing really momentous or exciting has been happening since then, I will put up a few photos just so those good people who actually follow this blog will have an update.

Yes, I will start with a sunrise photo as I usually do when I am desperately scrambling for images to post:

We had four days during this past week when the seas were perfectly calm. The little piece of ocean here behind the house was almost glassy at times. The water got very clear. When the seas are calm it sometimes almost seems to disappear. We are looking forward to more of this weather as summer approaches. We hope we will be able to start taking more time to enjoy it.

Each day it seems we discuss taking the boat out, and then get caught up in one of our myriad projects and the next thing we know, it's too late.

This week there was one afternoon when we just couldn't stand it any more. We went to the marina determined to at least get the boat out for a quick ride. While we were at the marina, we ran into our old friend and former construction worker Romeo. Romeo did almost all the interior painting and a lot of of the other work on our home. He has been a good worker and friend for the past fourteen months. The dog misses him. We had not seen him at the house in two weeks, and were wondering what was going on. Now we know. He has started working full time for the Meridian Club on Pine Cay. He no longer works for our builder. We are now thinking that our house might just be the last one that this builder finishes. He is 72 years old, and has been talking about retirement. We are glad for him. He has become a good friend. He deserves to kick back, visit more with his children and grandchildren. Do more fishing. If he retires now it probably doesn't bode well for us getting a lot more support in finishing the house. Or someone to call if things break. And things do break. Especially in this climate. Maybe we're wrong about the retirement, but it's not looking that way. I guess it's a good thing we took such an active hand in building the place. We can handle it going forward. It's not like we have a choice, anyway.

We did run the boat out and down the coast line. We were checking for any new wrecked wooden sloops and looking for sources of good driftwood for some projects we have in mind. Somehow, we found ourselves all the way down to this part of the island. We took yet another photo of the house from the water:

It immediately becomes even more apparant from this angle how much we need some serious landscaping here. Big time. We also would not mind it if the builder removed that big blue Gradall from the yard. Of course that will make the sat dish and boat trailer even more obvious. I am thinking that might be a good place to try some papaya trees..

Except for that one afternoon's boat trip, we have pretty much been knocking items off our list one by one. And still the list grows. I thought these kinds of lists were supposed to get shorter...

I managed to find all the PVC pieces I needed to complete the plumbing for the new filtering system for the cistern water:

If you compare that to the last post, you can see some differences.
That was fun, actually. Playing with PVC piping is like having a Lego set for big boys. You get to cut pipe and figure out all the little couplings, elbows, and valves. And if you use enough PVC cleaner, primer, and glue in an enclosed pump room, your ears start ringing and you drool a little right before you walk into a concrete wall. That never seemed to happen with Legos. Well, wait a minute. Drooling. Walking into walls...I guess maybe it happened with the Legos, too. Come to think of it,I have been doing that all my life, it seems.

So now the cistern water gets pumped through several filters and then it gets zapped by a strong ultraviolet light in the last stage. (I guess for a microbe or bacteria, it would be an 'ultraviolent' light.) I am still waiting on another sediment pre-filter filter to install. I am sure I will be desperate enough for another photo to put up an updated image when I get that one in. It's on the way. I also took the opportunity while playing with the water supply to install a faucet ( "hose bib", here) so that I could drain the plumbing, pump water from one cistern to the other, and things like that. I guess all this obsessing with the plumbing is from all those years of me messing around with water as a career. Some things don't change much. Fifty years of building sand castles....and this is the best one yet.

I have really been getting interested in this whole cistern water thing. I am trying to come up with a design for a 'first flush' system. That would divert the initial rain water away from the cisterns, along with all the dust, bird poop, and other debris that builds up on the roof between rain storms. Then after a certain amount of rain has run through the pipes and its running clean, it should be channelled into the cistern. I have some ideas for that.

I had another idea which I think will be an improvement. In general, all of the cisterns here in the TCI work pretty much like this:

(This is, of course, a dramatization....there's not that much silt. It all settles out anyhow. And we are now double filtering and sterilizing it, too.)

It occurred to me that the freshest water in the cistern is the new stuff coming in. Its warmer than the water already in the cistern. So it would tend to stay at the top. Any dust that gets washed into the system settles out in the bottom of the cistern. So the stuff near the bottom is stratified. I had an idea that if I just changed the pickup pipe a little, it would be a good thing. So I drew this up and sent it to our architect for his thoughts. The new, improved, Gringo cistern drain design:

I figure the new fresh rainwater will force the older water at the bottom up the pipe and out the drain, taking some silt with it. Built this way, the drain pipe will act as a water barrier. It should keep ants, etc. from getting into the cistern in the first place. An air lock, sort of. Maybe it's a water lock, I don't know. But it will keep the clean cistern water from being exposed to the easy access of the standard design. And what kinds of things do I want to keep out of the cistern, you might ask? Oh, these guys, for starters:

Gotcha, didn't I? Hey, the tropics are not all fun and games you know. We got bugs. I realized later I didn't have anything for scale in the photo. But that one is about 2 inches long. About average for here. I have noticed that the roaches here are not very tough. You can beat one of them senseless with a sandal in a few minutes or so if you can stun it early and then keep after it.

The architect liked the drain idea, and told me he is going to start building cisterns this way from now on. Gringo-ized. I think with just a little basic engineering people could be drinking a lot cleaner water than they have been. Cheap fixes, too. I am going to add these to the two cisterns at the house.

And if you think THIS is boring....just wait until we start installing our sea-water well and reverse osmosis system to make our own fresh water from the ocean...

So this week has been pretty mundane, again. The house still takes up almost all of our time. La Gringa has been working on software in her new home office and getting the house organized. She has all her computer stuff unpacked, and tried out two different web-cams to see if she could set one up as some of our blog readers have requested. One of the little cheapo cams we brought down from NJ with us didn't work at all, and the quality of the other one is crummy. We will look around for a better one.

I have been working on some carpentry projects in MY home "office" ( garage/workshop) such as another set of shelves for the pantry:

It's working out to be a very nice place for a workshop. Great views of the ocean. When I open the garage doors on each side, the trade winds blow right through. They take all the sanding dust etc. right out the door with them. Cool.

So that's a bit of a snapshot of what we have been up to this past week. We are expecting another flurry of construction activity, with (hopefully) hurricane shutters being installed over the sliding glass doors and maybe the landscapers getting started. By 'flurry' I actually mean some kind of discernable forward motion that we can time with a calendar. We are planning on getting a bunch of stuff planted. It should help enormously. The list includes buttonwood, mahogany, and sturdy, native palm trees. We are probably not going with the tall, spindly importe coconut palms that many ex-pats seem to like. Not on this piece of exposed, rocky coastline.

We have spent the past two months living here and watching the neighbors' expensive new coconut palms gently fraying in the breeze...

Yes, it's blowing 20 mph from the East again today.

And while not every sunset here is incredible, even the average ones are generally at least worth a photo.

Please note I am adding this to the post because I have already gotten some comments about this whole cistern idea. If you are not particularly interested in cistern ideas, you need read no further!)

For those of our readers who also live in areas where cisterns are used to trap and hold rainwater, I wanted to bounce this idea around. The problem, as you might know, is that in the weeks and months of dry times between rainy periods stuff builds up on the roof. It includes dust, bird poop, insect bits, and atmospheric fall-out that might include pesticides and lord knows what else. Our filtering setup will take this out of the cistern water before we use it, but I am after a way to keep it out of the cistern in the first place. Call it water quality control.

There are some companies building 'first flush' diverters. I won't go into all the details here, but basically what they do is let the first water that falls on the roof and washes down the dust etc. run off and not go into the cistern. I have found two Australian products that interest me. If you are interested in these, you can see them at:

and at:

Right now, I am leaning toward the first one, although I am sure either would work. I just like simplicity, and fewer moving parts and things to go out of whack. There is also some volume control in that one. There once was a US group making a similar product, but I have not been able to get an answer out
of them since Hurricane Katrina wiped out their facility in Louisiana two years ago. I suspect the Australians are more tuned into this kind of application, anyway. I do have one little problem in that the Ozzie diverters are in metric sizes, and of course all the PVC here is in inches. Hmm...

My situation is that I could add one of these diverters to each of our exposed sections of PVC between the rain gutters and the house wall. Our feed-in installations look like this:

and this:

We do not have access to the plumbing between the point where these go into the walls and exit in the cistern, which is the next place I can get to them: inside the cistern tanks.

If we wanted to install one at each feed-in, I would have to buy five diverters. That's not all that bad, except that they would look ugly. They would be potential head bangers. And they would dump dirty water on the patio, etc.

I am looking for a way to use them without the drawbacks. I thought that if I installed one on the outside of the cistern, and capped off what is normally the open end, it would look more like this:

The rain always starts slow, and it rains for several minutes before the roof stuff gets washed loose and down the gutters. This is the part I want to divert. I am thinking that if I just connected the inflow to the outflow, with a T fitting in the middle, a capped-off diverter would act like a close-off valve. It should let the dirty water all run right out the end of the pipe until it closed the valve. Then the water should back up and flow up and out the T-fittings on the top of the pipe inside the cistern. If need be, there could be several of these T fittings along that pipe. Trial and error, I guess.

Then when the diverter closed, of course, the scenario should look more like this:

Some additional advantages to this are that I would only have to buy two diverters, one for each cistern tank. I would put two new holes in the cistern wall for the outflow, because I do not want to stop up the two drains already there. I also want to be able to put the diverter end of the outflow a few inches lower than the inflow.

It looks to me like it should work, with some fine-tuning. This setup would also lend itself to being retrofittable to other people's existing cisterns. I think that for the most part, people just do not realize what they are drinking in their water. In addition to the stuff already mentioned, I should also point out the sodium (salt). Many people should not be ingesting sodium for heart and blood pressure issues, and it's in the very dust here.

This method would also rinse out the entire piping system each time it rained before diverting water into the cistern. If I installed the diverters on the in-feed pipes next to the gutters, dust that got into the piping in the walls would not be rinsed. It would go into the cistern. This would flush ALL the pipes. Diverting the silt would save people having to have their cisterns cleaned out as often, too.

I would welcome any ideas or comments on this. I ( of course!) think it's a good idea. I also think that this whole idea of cleaning up people's drinking water by installing first-flush diverters and filters to existing homes could justify a business, if I could find a local partner who was interested. I just need a sharp, motivated, local plumber to work with. And money and marketing, of course.

Any thoughts?



Anonymous said...

Ok, I promised myself that I would "lurk" less when reading people's blogs and actually let them know how much I enjoy reading about their every day goings on.

So, with that in mind, here I am letting you know how much I enjoy reading about your increasing lists, imagining you beating a 2 inch cockroach senseless with a sandal, watching the dog bark at fish and birds behind one way glass and do I really need to explain what your sunrise and sunset photos mean to me here in London?

Probably not.

Keep the 'mundane' coming Gringo et Gringa - you look well and truly set up there!!

Love to the Dog

Anonymous said...

If you extend the vertical intake pipe 1 foot lower past the 90' turn into the cistern and put a screw cap on the bottom the dirt and leaves will collect in there and you can unscrew it easily to let them flush out anytime. Sometimes you must make that longer than 1' to make your access easier. During hurricanes when the rain may be extremely salty you can just leave the bottom cap off as well. Very gringo-ized but common here in the Virgin Islands.

Anonymous said...

Hello Dad in London. We are very glad you get a smile out of the blog from time to time. We tend to forget how different this kind of life must seem to people living in higher latitudes, and it's good to be reminded. Yes, we can imagine how this must all look from London. We have both been there. In my case, many times while working on projects in the North Sea and on some military projects with the A.R.E. I have a lot of fond memories of the UK, but (no offense intended) at this stage of my life I would rather be someplace tropical. This is still an outpost of the British Empire, of course, and the TCI has an interesting (to us) mix of UK and USA influences. We watch US and UK television, have an English breed of dog, and navigate a right-hand drive Land Rover on the left side of the road. This certainly ain't Kansas anymore.

The dog sends his regards.

Anonymous said...

Hello Capt. RD,
Thanks for the input. We don't have a leaf problem, it's mostly dust and of course the same airborne pollutants that any surface water anywhere is collecting. We do not have access to the intake pipes at the cistern. We CAN get to them between the raingutters and where they go into the walls. I have located two designs of first-flush diverters that interest me.

One of them is at:

another one is at:

I have been working on some ideas in which I would connect the inflow pipe to the outflow drain inside the cistern in such a way that a measured weight of water outside the cistern drain would pull open a valve inside. But simplicity and reliability in design are still escaping me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Gringo....I got a good chuckle out of the PVC piping and Lego part of you post. Keep up the posts, I even enjoy reading and learning about your cistern ideas.


Anonymous said...

We just received an email from Alison in New England, and I hope she doesn't mind if I post it here in the "comments" section:

"Hello Gringos-

My family and I just returned a few weeks ago from my first trip to the Caribbean region and to Turks and Caicos Islands. What can I say – I am enthralled and am quietly devising ways to get back sooner rather than later – and to hopefully see more of the other Islands. I've been searching for various things on the web that would at least keep my mind on the Islands if nothing else. I stumbled across your blog and couldn't be more excited.

We're New Englanders and my husband has decided that THIS is the place to escape to, eventually. So…for now I will start from the beginning of your blog and live vicariously and hope that one day, we too can live there.

Kind regards-


p.s. I worked in an engineering firm for a few years so I'm actually quite interested in reading all about the cistern"

Thanks for writing, Alison. It reminds me that while this day to day stuff seems pretty boring to us while we are living through it, there might still be something of interest to other people viewing all this from afar. It also reminds me I have been remiss in keeping fresh posts flowing lately.
I will go grab some photos and write another one!

Matt Cook said...

Glad to see we added another "subscriber" in Allison. I hope she knows she's now hooked! (yep, I'm still here, been with you since the beginning on THT) Thanks again for letting me live vicariously through y'all. Keep up the posts. Best of luck.

Anonymous said...

You've pegged me, Matt, I AM hooked. I might need an intervention. This is great stuff!

Anonymous said...

Great use of a horo Saferain. Love the pics!Anyone who sees this just KNOWS that it is a Horizontal Saferain with the right hand side capped off. Why don't you Yanks give credit where it is due?
Saferain is here to stay. See the therainwell

Anonymous said...

Nope, it's not a Saferain, and I will tell you why.
I tried very hard to buy five of them, but Saferain told me they couldn't help us.

You see, they build these things for metric PVC pipe, which is not what we have. We have 2" PVC. Saferain supplies adapters for 3" and 4".

Again, that's not what we have.

There was a US company making a very similar product, but Hurricane Katrina wiped their business out.

So after a lot of frustration, I had to decide to try to design my own.

Story of my life.

(And the idea was developed in the US, by the way. Not in AU)

Unknown said...

Novel & crafty cistern inlet design. Let me know how your first flush design goes. BTW, the SafeRain does not require a catchment chamber like the first flush is. Will a 2" to 4" flush adapter work for the SafeRain using the metric to 4" adapter? The fella in New Orleans based his design on the SafeRain.

Anonymous said...

Hello Greg,
Hey, was that your comment about the diverter? After reading it (we rarely get get comments on posts that are two years old!) I sent an email to Saferain, just to see what they are up to. They couldn't help me two years ago.

Surprise, I got a reply from a Trent Church. I sent him some photos last night of this setup, and he says perhaps he can come up with something that works.

Would save me a lot of time and experimentation if I can buy something essentially off the shelf. And when I build our next house, this kind of stuff will be designed in from the beginning.

Oh, there will be a LOT of changes in the next house, based upon what we have learned by living here.

Unknown said...

No that was not me. Don't know who it was. The SafeRain ought to work for you. It is the most compact diverter on the market. Trent ought to be able to help you out.

Anonymous said...

Oh, okay. Sorry. I thought it kind of strange to be getting all these comments in a post made just almost two years ago.

I am thinking that if someone "googles" Saferain that this post comes up somewhere in the mix. I am in contact with Trent, and we are talking about this. Looking back over this post, I realize that I came up with another idea for the end of that pipe, if I couldn't get a Saferain type diverter. It involves a vertical section of PVC, large diameter (8" or whatever size I can get) with a conical stepdown adapter at the top and a floating rubber ball inside as a check valve.

But here it is two years down the pike and I haven't made any mods to the cistern yet. What happens is that the extra pre-filter I put in, a clear thing that I can clean out, seems to trap a lot of the dust. It gets clogged after a fresh rain busts the stuff in the gutters loose. Its a real pain in the patoot to have to go down and clean it, but it's become part of a daily chore.
I think I'll update this with another post in 2010.
Wow, this is like a time machine!!

I also notice how much better the photo quality got in this blog later on.

Unknown said...

Your idea of a containment chamber and ball float is a poor man's first flush diverter with a float valve. It does require maintenance. It has to be drained after each rain event before the next one comes along. Also it has to be supported. Water tends to get heavy. But I am sure you have thought about that. But beats having to get inside the cistern to clean your roof filter.