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Last Updated: Monday, 10 April 2006, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
No butts
Bright ideas from Magazine readers

There must be a national effort to bring about a "green revolution", says the government. But what simple things can we all do to save the Earth?

Green Light is a series of bright ideas from Magazine readers to help save the world
Everyone could help save the planet by making just a few changes in our household energy use. So the Magazine's inviting you to tell us how you think we could all be greener and more energy efficient at home, and that includes saving water - and we'll publish one a day.

Water butt fence

Magazine reader Don Jones from Essex has gone to the unusual lengths of making a prototype of his invention and getting it patented. But no-one seems to want to manufacture it.

He writes:

    I have a simple idea for storing rain water collected from any convenient roof via downpipes: slimline rectangular panels joined together which could double as a fence.

    If all terraced houses were built with this type of fencing they would have a constant supply of free water for their garden, topping up ponds etc. It's been quite some time that I have been trying to get a company to manufacture my idea. It's unfortunately too expensive to have a supply made. Most of our rainwater runs into soak-aways or into drains which is such a waste when we consider we are facing a water shortage crisis.

We reckon this is a good idea - and might appeal particularly to people whose gardens are too small to accommodate a regular water butt. If the panels could be covered with a veneer of fence panelling, so much the better. But what's the expert verdict?

Expert verdict

Terry Nash, spokesperson for the UK Rainwater Harvesting Association, says that this idea for gathering and storing water could be one way of helping to tackle the current drought.

In Germany, a not dissimilar system for water storage is being manufactured, in the form of plastic, interlocking blocks, which are built into a garden wall. There are also artificial "rocks", made from plastic, that double-up as rainholders, he says.

"It makes huge sense to have people watering their gardens with rainwater," he says. But for the water-holding garden wall, he says "cost is the issue".

"Compared to an upright barrel, or one sunk into the ground, the artificial wall is going to be much more expensive," he says.

There is growing interest in water tanks below the ground, he says, which can have large capacity while remaining unobtrusive - and commercial schemes, such as gathering water to wash fleets of cars, can hold up to 20,000 litres of rainwater.

But he says that Mr Jones is on the right track in terms of wanting to make better use of rainwater.

A three-bedroom detached house has about 120,000 litres annual rainfall on its roof and guttering - and when parts of the country face water shortages, this is a scarce resource to see disappearing down the drain.

And gardeners might be keen when they find out that the hosepipe ban doesn't apply to self-gathered water.

How Green Light works

Send us your ideas - whether they are technology innovations, new or improved gadgets or simply tips on energy-saving behaviour - to the Magazine using the form below. If possible include drawings explaining how your gadget or idea might work. Send these to the.magazine@bbc.co.uk, please making sure that the subject line is GREEN LIGHT.

More details

Your comments

Well done Don, I don't know why there isn't more rainwater harvesting in the UK. I'm sure not everyone would be happy with a plastic boundary wall but it could always be clad neatly in brick and installing one would be a great future investment for the property. The fact that your design works on overflow chambers means that most of any sediment will collect in the first chamber making it easy to clean. My parents in South Africa have had a 4000 litre tank in their garden for 20 years and it's never needed cleaning out, having only a very thin layer of silt on the bottom even after all these years, so silt build up may not even be a problem. Perhaps some of those companies who have rejected you may think twice now with the current drought.
Mark Shepherd, Richmond, Surrey

My idea is to use rainwater as a power supply, or maybe grey water as well. How about putting small water turbines into the downpipes and using them to charge batteries. I suspect that the amount of power gained wouldn't be worth the effort, but if they were in all downpipes maybe there might be some benefit.
Simon, Northampton

As I live in a river valley with a rich history of mills, I am constantly amazed that no one uses the obvious free energy of the stream to generate local electricity on the small scale. Far less obtrusive than wind farms and using practically the same technology, a whole series built stradling streams down a valley could supply enough energy for the local villages. It's probably even possible to adapt the technology to run in the flowing underground rivers/sewers of our major cities.
Mark Bell, Guildford

I'd just like to point out that here in Brisbane it's very important to have your drinks cool. Fridges are much larger because the Aussie taste is for ice-cold drinks - it's rude to serve water that hasn't been chilled, and people look at me strange when I warm up beverages to the 5 degree temperature I prefer from my British upbringing.
J, Brisbane, Australia

A fence would be too expensive because of it's shape, i.e. surface area/volume, but how about a plastic moulded garden bench? It could easily have the volume of a large water butt and be moulded in the same way but in the shape of a seat. If the cost is no more than a garden bench then the butt aspect comes free.
Malcolm, Wirral, UK

I liked Don Jones's idea of the water butt fence. I would be cautious of its design as it leaves the possiblity of some of the tanks being empty and possibly unstable, it is supposed to be a wall. There is also the issue of freezing as it is above ground and susceptible to the elements. Then there is the complexity of the tap system as each tank is only filled by the overflow of the others. Surely, the stability problem and the tap complexity could be solved by linking all the tanks together at ground level and let them fill up as a single entity? I guess there might be a problem with leaks if the connections are not well made... I think if we were to bury a large tank in the garden, say 5,000 litres. Then run a heat pump into it, taking heat out of the tank during winter and putting heat into it during summer, it could serve a dual role as a thermal store and a place to store and retrieve water.
David Hunt, Cambridge

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