It hasn’t been that many years since the Maryland Department of Natural Resources filled in the communal outhouse style comfort station that graced the western side of Stafford Road. Heck, private privies remain in use in remote camping and park areas throughout the country, though increasingly they’re being phased out.
There’s a reason for the demise of night soil production stations, back yard garbage dumps and bans on burning trash and yard waste: There are just too many people and, if everyone decided to use the disposal methods that prevailed well into the mid 1900s, the smell would be oppressive, and the effect on ground water would be sickening.
Something that is likely to go the way of outhouses is the standby version of the residential septic system that has been in use and largely unchanged at least since the 1950s. State-of-the-art technology for its day, a septic system is something of a recycling wonder. It consists of a settling tank where solids flushed from a home sink out of the water that carried them there. Water exits the system through a drain field into the nearby soil. If everything is working properly and the system isn’t overloaded, the water ends up being cleansed by the action of bacteria and other natural forces.
Starting Jan. 1, new, more strict, regulations regarding septic systems for new houses built away from access to public sewer systems will go into effect, and the regulations promise to add $11,000 to $14,000 to the cost of a new home built on a well and septic system in Harford County. The new state law demands septic systems for new homes be built using the “best available technology,” or BAT.
From a certain perspective, it’s hard to see why the buyers of new homes on septic systems wouldn’t be demanding the best available technology when it comes to waste disposal. As a rule – and there are exceptions – homes served by septic systems also draw their water from wells. While theoretically, there’s not supposed to be any crossover between the two systems, in practice, sometimes well and septic fields overlap.
Reality being what it is, however, questions about septic system technology take a back seat to square footage, storage space and curb appeal when people are buying houses, so often the most inexpensive available technology allowed by law is what ends up being used. No change in law, means no change in industry standard.
Is a change in the industry standard called for? Probably so. While septic systems have proven to be largely reliable, they have their problems, and a failed or marginal septic system has the potential to pollute nearby groundwater and springs with excess nutrients, which often manifest themselves as bright green algae blooms in standing water and nearby creeks.
Reminiscent of a hand-cranked bingo number generator, Poly Glu International of Osaka has developed an easy-to-use portable water purification system, Eco-Polyglu, intended for those cut off from access to clean potable water.
The mechanics of the system are simple: pour dirty water in need of cleaning into the 10-liter capacity tank, add a packet of polyglutamic acid, insert a filter, and use the hand crank to spin the tank for about one minute. Voila! You now have water that is safe to drink. Change the filter and you’re ready to go again. The system’s water tank can also be easily detached and carried like a bucket.
Full video of this fantastic little contraption turning filthy liquid into crystal-clear water after the break.
“Polyglumatic acid, a type of amino acid found in natto (traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans) and responsible for the dish’s gooey texture, becomes entangled with contaminants in the dirty water. Rotating the tank results in aeration which furthers the effectiveness of the acid making it easier to separate and remove toxicants such as colon bacterium and heavy metals,” said a company representative in explaining the science behind the device.
No electricity is needed to operate the system, just a little muscle power, making it suitable for those without access to electricity such as victims in disaster areas or people living in destitute regions lacking reliable energy sources. Furthermore, with production costs kept comparatively low, the Eco-Polyglu is a much more affordable alternative to portable water filtration systems we’ve seen previously.
When asked why the company pursued the product’s development, the representative responded, “We wanted households in developing countries to have access to a simple, inexpensive water purifier.” The company says its desire is to “have people around the world be able to safely drink unboiled water.”
In less fortunate countries, human suffering from contaminated water is a serious problem. Helping relieve such suffering became a prime task for Poly Glu International and is also the reason they focused on developing a water purification system that would not require electric power.
The system cannot purify all types of contaminated water. “It’s suitable for stored rain water and water in baths and pools and such, and can also purify water from ponds and rivers,” said the company rep. Water containing domestic sewage or hazardous substances, however, is beyond the device’s capabilities.
When asked how they planned to market the item going forward, the rep responded, “Overseas we will target the less-fortunate. In Japan we will market it as an item for emergency-preparedness kits, to be used in times of disaster when water supplies may be disrupted.”
Eco-Polyglu is currently available at Amazon Japan for 12,800 yen (US$145). Filters retail at 2,200 yen (US$25) for a package of 50 and a bundle of 100 Polyglu powder packets (polyglutamic acid) goes for 4, 500 yen (US$51).
Source: Excite News
Mortgage rates hovering by record lowsAlthough mortgage rates ticked higher in the most recent weekly data, levels remain near record lows, according to Freddie Mac. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage average rose to 3.40% in the week ending Jan. 10 from 3.34% in the prior week, compared with a record low of 3.31% that was set in November, according to the most recent weekly data. As the Federal Reserve continues to support low rates, analysts expect average 30-year mortgage rates to remain well below 4% throughout 2013.– Ruth Mantell Read more about interest rates.Housing affordability on track to set record Record low interest rates, along with low prices, are making housing more affordable than ever, according to analysts. A barometer released this week showed that housing affordability is expected to set a record in 2012, according to data from the National Association of Realtors. The trade association is forecasting that its index of housing affordability will hit a record level of 194 in 2012, up from 186 in 2011, when the prior record was reached. Data go back to 1970. A reading of 100 means that a household with median income would have exactly enough income to qualify for buying a median-priced existing single-family home. A level of 194 for last year means that families had almost double the income needed for buying a median-priced existing single-family home. However, skeptics might note that NAR’s index didn’t fall below 100 even during the recent bubble. Indeed, the last time the index reached under 100 was in 1985, when mortgage rates were in double digits.Read more about affordability.Rising credit scores for Freddie, Fannie loansDespite record affordability, economists, including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, have been concerned that overly tight credit standards have prevented many buyers from participating in the housing market. Indeed, credit scores for loans purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac started rising in 2008 and remain relatively high. In the third quarter, the weighted average credit score of single-family mortgages purchased by Fannie reached 761, while the score was 762 for Freddie-acquired loans. Those levels are up from the 730s in 2008. Looking to increase lenders’ willingness to make loans, federal regulators unveiled new rules this week to clean up the mortgage marketplace while offering legal protections to lenders when loans go bad.Read more about new mortgage rules.Debt-to-income ratios fallingWhile credit-score standards have increased post-bubble, debt-to-income ratios have been falling. For home-purchase loans, the weighted average debt-to-income ratio at the time of origination is currently around 34%, down from a bubble high of about 40%. “The average debt-to-income ratios are back to basically the early 2000 levels for reasonable, sustainable mortgage payments,” said Mark Fleming, chief economist for analysis firm CoreLogic. “Apart from credit scores maybe being a little bit too tight, all of the other aspects of the traditional metrics on which you underwrite mortgage loans are really back to reasonable and tried and true levels.” Still, there are concerns that first-time home buyers who have trouble with a down payment are falling through the cracks. The new rules on so-called qualified mortgages are restricted to those loans with a debt-to-income ratio no greater than 43% — over the last two years, about 14% of mortgages didn’t meet that standard, according to the American Bankers Association.Denial rates for mortgages are downInterestingly, denial rates for mortgages are down, according to Federal Reserve analysis of data provided under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. The denial rate for owner-occupied conventional first-lien home-purchase loans in 2011 was 14.8%, compared with a recent peak of 19% in 2007, according to the Fed. How does that trend jibe with concerns about overly tight standards? “The pool of borrowers changes over time. It is not always obvious how it affects denial rates. It is likely now only well-qualified folks apply. In the subprime period a much weaker pool of borrowers applied, maybe more than once,” according to one Fed economist. Fleming, the chief economist at CoreLogic, said that while denial rates are within normal levels, there are potential borrowers who probably aren’t bothering to apply. “Maybe there are a whole pile of people who figured it out, and know that there is no point in coming forward for a loan. But that’s a lot different than the banks not being willing to lend,” Fleming said.