Title:
Computer-controlled water recapture mechanism
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A system for redirecting clean water that would otherwise go down the drain is disclosed. The system can save both water as well as energy.



Inventors:
Harrison, Todd M. (Lexington, KY, US)
Application Number:
11/639799
Publication Date:
06/19/2008
Filing Date:
12/13/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
E03C1/01; A47K4/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
NGUYEN, TUAN N
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
STOCKWELL & SMEDLEY, PSC (LEXINGTON, KY, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A system for conserving water within a building, comprising: a plurality of storage tanks connected to a plumbing infrastructure of the building; a plurality of remote-activated valves connected to a plumbing infrastructure of the building; a plurality of temperature sensors connected to a plurality of showerheads within the building; and a centralized controlling mechanism for operating and controlling the storage tanks, remote-activated valves, and temperature sensors according to user-designated predetermined levels.

2. The system of claim 1, further comprising: equalizing pumps located near the storage tanks, for reacting to changes in water pressure in the building, and equalizing that water pressure

3. The system of claim 1, further comprising: a heating mechanism, located near to one of the plurality of showerheads.

4. A method of controlling a plumbing system within a building comprising: monitoring the water temperature of a bathroom shower mechanism; registering that the water temperature is not satisfactory according to a predetermined threshold; preventing the water from reaching the shower mechanism; re-routing the water to a holding tank; continuing to monitor the water temperature; registering that the water temperature is satisfactory; and enabling the water to reach the shower mechanism.

5. The method of claim 4, further comprising: using the water in the holding tank to fill a flush-tank of a commode.

6. A method of controlling a plumbing system within a building comprising: monitoring the temperature of a water pipe leading to a washing machine; registering that the water temperature is not satisfactory according to a predetermined threshold; preventing the water from reaching the washing machine; re-routing the water to a holding tank; continuing to monitor the water temperature; registering that the water temperature is satisfactory; and enabling the water to reach the washing machine.

7. The method of claim 6, further comprising: using the water in the holding tank to fill a flush-tank of a commode.

8. The method of claim 6, further comprising: using the water in the holding tank to supply cold or room-temperature water for a coldwater cycle of a washing machine.

9. A water-conserving system for a building, comprising: a shower assembly located within every of a plurality of showerheads; a needle valve located within each shower assembly; and a special key for operating each of said needle valves; wherein the special key is located in a secure location that is not near the shower assembly, and is not accessible to a user of the shower assembly.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates generally to a household water recovery system, and more specifically to a highly automated water recovery system which has superior efficiency.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

It is estimated that only a minuscule percentage of all water on earth is fresh water. And of the fresh water that exists on the earth, only a fraction of 1% is available for use since most of the water is locked up in ice and snow masses and is not readily available. In a 1990 U.S. Geological Survey, the average U.S. resident uses in excess of 100 gallons per day for publicly supplied water and approximately 79 gallons per day for each person using his or her own water system.

It is also estimated that 32% of this estimated water consumption is used for showering. Waiting for cold shower water to warm-up to a desired temperature causes wasted water. As any unused shower water that falls into the drain is channeled into the sewer system, there is no natural recapture of fresh water used in showering. At 60 psi water flow, a single minute of idle shower flow will waste approximately two gallons of fresh water. Consequently, a means of recapturing this lost water is desired.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

It is an object of the present invention to provide an economical water recapture system that can divert, collect, and store fresh water used in a period when the bather does not require the water. It is an additional object of the present invention to do so using a variety of computer system implementations, including that which is found in many standard household computers. These and other objects and advantages of the invention will become readily apparent as the following description is read in conjunction with the accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 shows a prior art implementation of a household plumbing and water system;

FIG. 2 shows a first embodiment of the water recovery system of the present invention; and

FIG. 3 shows a second embodiment of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Before explaining the disclosed embodiment of the present invention in detail it is to be understood that the invention is not limited in its application to the details of the particular arrangement shown, since the invention is capable of other embodiments. Also, the terminology used herein is for the purpose of description and not of limitation.

The problem of water rationing can be bad in the United States, but is particularly pronounced in countries which do not have a large available source of fresh water. Many countries have resorted to the use of desalination plants for purposes of producing fresh water from sea water. However, even with present-day efficient technology, the energy costs of desalinized water is quite substantial.

To address these and other problems, many municipalities, during water shortage periods, instruct the citizens to use shower water only for purposes of rinsing off soap lather, and to cease all water flow during lathering and the like. Moreover, by governmental regulation, all homes in certain municipalities must be outfitted with flow-restricting showerheads which materially reduce the water flow rate and hence, the reduction in the quantity of water which issues from a shower head.

Meanwhile, within the USA, many people are accustomed to and particularly enjoy long showers with an abundance of available hot water. Not only does the flow restricting showerhead reduce the amount of water delivered, but since the flow restricter literally serves as a restriction in the line, water issues at a substantially lower pressure. As a result, there is not a soft water flow, but rather a high pressure stream of water which does not produce a pleasing sensation when striking upon a person's body in any significant quantity which users may desire.

When one replaces a government issued or government approved flow-restricting shower head with another high-flow rate conventional shower head, that person risks potential civil penalties, not to mention the substantial cost for exceeding a rationed limit of water. Hotels and similar institutions have a particularly pronounced problem in that there is no effective control on the quantity of shower water used by a temporary occupant. Nevertheless, hotels and similar institutions are subject to rationing of water on the same basis as the private population.

Nonetheless, most of the prior art inserts and replacement shower heads can easily be removed by impatient users who are more interested in getting a good high-pressure shower than in conserving water. This is a particular problem in the hotel and rental property industries because obeying regulations in water usage is not the user's concern.

In view of the foregoing, there is clearly a need of water conservation in those regions where only a limited amount of fresh water may be available, particularly in vehicles such as boats, planes, recreational vehicles, mobile homes and the like. These vehicles in particular are uniquely limited in their ability to provide extended shower capacity, due to the finite capacity of water on board the vehicle, or otherwise the ability of the vehicle to create fresh water. Thus, a water recycling system in this type of environment would be particularly effective. Also, the present invention differs from this in that it can be installed within an existing structure; as well as within new construction.

In response to the demand for water conservation, a number of devices for reducing domestic water usage by cutting down the amount of water used during a shower have reached the market. Some of these take the form of flow restrictors adapted for insertion into the water lines or shower valves. Others provide flow-limiting shower heads of various designs intended to take the place of existing inefficient, wasteful spray heads. These flow-regulating devices are unsatisfactory is that they do nothing to prevent the waste that occurs when the shower is turned on before the water comes to the desired temperature.

To address these and other problems, FIG. 1 shows a sectioned view of the interior of a household environment that is suitable for using the present invention. From FIG. 1 it is apparent that the house has two stories and a basement, with a hot water heater and washing machine located in the basement. The second floor shows a commode and shower. However, many other water devices could also be included, including on the first floor where for brevity no water devices are shown. Thus, FIG. 1 is but for exemplary purposes only, so that the present invention should not be considered as limited exclusively thereto.

FIG. 2 shows the household environment of FIG. 1 modified to incorporate various features of the present invention. The water recycling and conservation system 100 of the present invention can work under the control of a centralized controller 104, which can communicate with the various flow mechanisms using WiFi or BlueTooth, or other wireless or non-wireless communication means.

Starting at the 2nd floor, a showerhead is shown having a temperature sensor 208 and a remote-activated valve 216 located nearto. When a shower-user turns on the hot water, that user will expect some cold water to be emitted through the showerhead for some length of time. The system 100 prevents this from occurring as follows. First, the temperature sensor 208 notes that the water temperature is not satisfactory, according to a predetermined threshold contained within the centralized controller 104. Until the temperature becomes satisfactory, the valve 218 re-routes the water to the holding tank 204. After the sensor 208 indicates that the water temperature is satisfactory, the diverter valve 216 is closed by the controller 104, so that no water is directed toward the holding tank 204.

Regarding the commode, the system 100 of the present invention provides for filling the flush-tank of the commode with water diverted from the showerhead. Depending on how much water is contained in the holding tank 204, if it is desired to fill the flush-tank of the commode, the valve 212 can be opened, thereby saving on water. Again, these processes are under the control of the centralized controller 104.

Moving to the basement portion of FIG. 2, a washing machine is shown having a temperature sensor B04 (‘B’ for Basement) and remote-activated valve B08. When the washing machine requires hot water, it makes a request through the water pipe B16. In response to this request, the hot water heater sends water through the pipe B16, but does so regardless of whether it has water stored at a sufficient temperature to be satisfactory for clothes-washing purposes.

Regarding the washing machine, it is desired to avoid a system which purports to wash clothes at a hot water temperature, but does not actually do so. Clothes could be washed at the wrong temperature, their colors affected, etc. Other effects could occur which are also undesired.

The temperature sensor B04 of the present invention can respond to this circumstance. For example, until the water in the hot water pipe B16 reaches a satisfactory temperature, it can be diverted to a holding tank B24, where the diverted water can still be used for cold or room-temperature purposes. When the temperature becomes satisfactory, the valve B20 opens up.

Washing machines also use cold or room temperature water for various purposes, such as but not limited to rinsing. Accordingly, when it is desired to use the diverted (non-hot) water from the holding tank B16, the controller 104 can act to simultaneously close the valve B12 and open the valve B08.

The system 100 of the present invention also includes the advantage of eliminating water surges and sudden water pressure drops as a result of use of water in other portions of a household environment. As a simple example, when one turns on hot water in a remote location in a house, the hot water issuing from the showerhead could suddenly suffer a pressure and volume drop. These surges and pressure drops can occur anytime hot water is used at another location within the household environment. To address this, the various holding tanks B16, 204, or others not shown of the present invention can also be equipped with equalizing pumps. The pumps can be either AC operated, DC operated, hydraulic, or pneumatic.

Sometimes, people step out of the stream of water to lather their hair, which can be time-consuming. Again, this results in wasted water, or in a user shutting off the water and freezing. To address this, and reduce wasted water, a heating mechanism 240 can be actuated to substitute for the heat lost due to interruption of hot water that occurs during lathering.

The chlorine in the hot water, which is conventionally added by municipalities for water-safety purposes, breaks down and is sometimes issued as a chlorine gas. A filter has been found to be effective in eliminating the chlorine gas which sometimes results in a hot water shower facility. Accordingly, it is also possible to incorporate a water filter B28 in the various water supply lines, such as but not limited to B16. By utilizing a filter B28 in the supply line or hot water line, this problem is substantially reduced.

The present invention also contemplates a circumstance in which users may attempt to defeat water conservation devices enclosed therein. As shown in FIG. 3, a water-conserving system 300 comprises a shower assembly 310 located within every showerhead of a hotel facility 302. After installation of the water-conserving shower assembly 310, water flow rate may be regulated by adjusting a needle valve 336 that can only be located with a special key 358, or under the direction of a centralized controller 304. If the key 358 is removed to a secure location, the water flow rate adjustment cannot be tampered with by the user without significant effort and aggravation. This feature will be a boon to hoteliers and landlords of large apartment complexes that are held responsible when indifferent consumers defeat the water conservation devices.

The systems 100, 300 of the present invention are designed to be easy for a plumber or handy homemaker or maintenance person to install without necessarily demolishing walls and doing major re-work. However, they are intended to still make it difficult for unauthorized persons to remove or damage than conventional water restricting line inserts and shower heads.

It is anticipated that various changes may be made in the arrangement and operation of the system of the present invention without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention, as defined by the following claims.