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Green Ways to Open Your Drain

Posted on September 26, 2016 by | Comments (0)

 A casual Sunday stroll down the cleaning supplies aisle at any local home center looks like an armory chocked full of drain cleaning ordinance. Based on their labels, all these products are terrifically effective, but at the end of the day, once you use these chemicals, they’re gone—literally down the drain.

The best approach to cleaning drain clogs is to never get clogs in the first place. That said, here are a few tips to keep your drains running free:

  • Can the grease – Pour used cooking grease into an empty, heat safe container, such as a soup can, and store it in the freezer. Once solidified, toss the can into the garbage.
  • Scrape your plate – Scrape all leftover food from pots, pans, dishes, and cooking utensils into the trash can to prevent them from going down the kitchen sink.
  • Catch the scraps – Use a sink strainer to catch any food scraps that remain on dirty dishes and plates then toss them into the trash or compost bin.
  • Don’t treat your toilet like a trash can – The only things you should be flushing are toilet paper and your “personal” contribution. Anything else, including “flushable” wipes, may contribute to a clog in your home plumbing.
  • When a drain starts to slow down, don’t wait for a clog to form. Pour about a ½ cup of baking soda down the drain. Wait a few minutes, then add 1 cup of vinegar, followed by one cup of hot water. Let the chemistry happen for 10 or 15 minutes. Then, run hot tap water down the drain to clean out the congestion, the baking soda and the vinegar.

 It’s always best to be proactive about pipe blockages. But when a clog hits your home plumbing, here’s what do to get things flowing again without the use of toxic chemicals. Use these tips to help keep all of the plumbing in your home clear of clogs.




Plungers work by forcing air and water toward a blockage. After several good plunges up and down, the blockage will break up, and then can be flushed down the drain with hot water from the faucet. For this technique to succeed, any vent holes must be plugged with a damp rag to prevent air from entering the drain and reducing the suction created by the plunging action. In a sink basin, these are usually inside the bowl under the front rim. In a tub, they’re at the bottom of the overflow plate. If you have a double-bowl kitchen sink, you should plug one of the two drain openings.

But don’t just grab the first plunger you see. A double cup (or an extension cup) model is best because it allows plunging of toilet bowls in addition to sink and bathtub drains.



A toilet auger, sometimes called a closet auger is designed to remove blocks from toilet traps. A cable is fed into the hole and turned with the handle until the blockage is broken up. A coiled wire bulb at the end of the cable has a sharp point for grabbing solid clogs.

If you’re lucky, a plunger will handle all your slow and blocked drains. But if a bigger clog is afoot, then you’ll need more fire power: either a toilet auger if the problem is with the toilet or a power auger if the problem is in a sink or tub drain.

The toilet auger is a clever cable device made with a coiled wire bulb on one end and a hand crank on the other. This cable rides inside a housing that has a steep bend on one end, designed to fit easily into the hole at the bottom of the bowl.

To use it, insert the bulb end into the hole and keep sliding the cable down until it is blocked. Gently turn the handle to loosen the blockage or to clear the bulb from any built-in obstructions like the joints where pipes meet. If you hit the blockage, just pull the cable back and forth until it breaks up, then wash it down the drain with a fresh flush. If the bulb was stopped by a pipe obstruction, jiggle the cable back and forth until you can push it farther into the drain and on its way to the real blockage.


The power drum auger holds about 20 ft. of coiled cable inside its housing. The cable is pulled out the front barrel until the wire bulb on the end hits a blockage. Then the cable is locked with a lever (seen just above the bulb) and the cable is turned, either by hand or by attaching a drill to the nub provided on the back of the tool.

The power drum auger is made with the same type of cable found in the toilet auger and it has the same coiled bulb on one end and a turning handle on the other. The cable is longer, usually around 20 feet, and comes wound in a metal or plastic housing.

As before, you start by feeding the coiled bulb into the drain opening on the sink or tub and then turning the handle whenever an obstruction is hit. For especially difficult clogs, this auger is outfitted with an adapter for attaching an electric drill. Attach the drill and hand-cranking becomes a thing of the past.  Keep in mind that both the toilet auger and the power drum auger are common rental items. If you won’t use them often and don’t want to buy them, then consider renting.

Guest blog submitted by Steve Willson who joined Popular Mechanics magazine as their Home Improvement Editor, authored three books and has edited or rewritten 11 books on various home improvement and tool use topics and now writes for  the Home Depot.

Posted in: Fats, oils and grease disposal

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What’s Your Water Wish?

Posted on September 23, 2016 by | Comments Off

Water drop group exampleWhat are your wishes and thoughts for our waterways and the Chesapeake Bay? Your “wish” may be for less pollution or litter; it may be for better habitat or perhaps you’d like to express your appreciation and love for the water. All those thoughts reflect how important the water is to all of us living in Hampton Roads.

Hampton Waterways Restoration Project would like to give those thoughts a voice by sharing them with the rest of the community and with Hampton city leaders. Each water drop wish will be attached to a rope and hopefully it ends up being a long one! Who knows, if we get enough water drops, maybe we can one day stretch it across the Hampton River?!? The chain of water drop wishes will be shared with Mayor Tuck and the rest of City Council at the Hampton City Council meeting, Wednesday, October 12, 1016.

To get involved, print this the water drop template on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock paper (any color); cut out the drop and create your Water Wish.. Then drop off your Water Wish with Hampton Clean City Commission (HCCC) 1296 Thomas Street, Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Pickup may be available for larger groups, call 727-1130 for additional details.

Water Wishes may also be decorated, scanned, and sent electronically to Please put “Water Wish” in the subject line. We will then print and cut your drop to add to the collection!

We hope you’ll join us in this effort! We also hope you’ll help us spread the word, so we can see just how far our thoughts can spread out on that rope!

Guest blog submitted by Claire Neubert, Chair of Hampton Waterways Restoration Project, a committee of the Hampton Clean City Commission.

Posted in: Community events, Waterways

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It’s Not Just Water!

Posted on September 15, 2016 by | Comments Off

askHRgreen-VideoThumbnails-230x140-askHRgreen-WaterVideoMany years ago, hurricane Isabel knocked out electricity throughout Hampton Roads and virtually every other private utility service for up to a week.  Do you know what the water utilities across the area heard from their citizens?  They said, “Thankfully the water and sewer did not go out.”  They knew they could manage without electricity, TV, telephone, and internet.  But they also knew that without clean and safe water and the sanitary sewer system, they could not last in their homes for more than a day or two.

In Hampton Roads, the drinking water system utilizes more than 6,500 miles of pipes to deliver safe drinking water to homes and businesses across the region. The wastewater system steps in to carry dirty water away when we send it down the drain. It takes more than 5,800 miles of pipes to carry our dirty water to treatment plants to be sanitized before it rejoins our local waterways. These systems work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to bring clean, safe water to our taps and take it away after we use it.  

But what if these systems were suddenly not available? What would life be like with no water for a whole ENTIRE day?

We use water for a lot more than just drinking.

We use it to wash dishes, grow food, flush toilets, and upkeep our yards.

It keeps hospitals in service, the aquarium full of marine life, and breweries brewing.

It is critical for day-to-day operations like fire protection and helping communities grow and prosper.  

We here at value water immensely, and we’re dedicated to raising awareness about its importance to every aspect of our lives. By joining forces with people around the country to Imagine a Day Without Water, we’re hoping to remind you of the thousands of pipes buried underground in Hampton Roads that bring water to and from your home.

And while water falls from the sky and flows through our lakes and rivers, drinking water is far from free. Processing it, treating it, bringing it to and from your house costs local water utilities millions of dollars a year. By continually maintaining systems, upgrading pipes and deploying new technologies, local water utilities are able to prevent disruptions to daily life and protect the health of citizens and the economy.

Maintenance programs implemented by water utilities require the support and attention from everyone including citizens, community leaders, elected officials, business owners, workers, and more. Without strong voices advocating for this maintenance work, our aging pipes will continue to hide underground until something happens to remind us just how critical they are to our quality of life.

So join us as we promote the importance of our communities’ water systems by participating in this year’s national campaign to Imagine a Day Without Water

Posted in: Clean and safe tap water, Community events, Using water wisely, Waterways

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Imagine a Day Without Water

Posted on September 14, 2016 by | Comments Off

I never knew how long a day could be until I had kids.  Early in the day I’m always so optimistic about the things I’ll get done once the girls are in bed: send some emails, mend my shirt, do a workout video. Maybe I’ll even start my 2-year old’s “first year” photo book. Ah yes, I have such good intentions until reality hits at about 5 pm. The 5-year old starts acting like she’s 2, the 2-year old strips down naked and runs around like a wild boar, and I realize dinner will be about an hour late. It’s all downhill from there. By the time my kids are asleep all I want to do is join them. That photo book is not happening. Again. But I’ve still got to do the dishes, laundry, and generally restore the house to a place that doesn’t resemble the path of a tornado. It seems like a lot to do at the end of a long day. But really, I’ve got it easy. Actually, I’ve got it easier than 663 million people. Let me explain.

It takes me about 15 minutes to do the dishes most nights: Load dishes, add detergent, push a button. Check. It takes even less time to do the laundry: Load clothes, add detergent, push a button. Check.  By this point I’m normally feeling quite productive and decide not to bother cleaning the rest of the house. It will just look like this again tomorrow night, right? Instead I cozy up on the couch and stream some mindless show. I’ve got time. After all, what takes some people over 6 hours each day to do, I just did in under 30 minutes. The clean water that is piped to my house saved me the time I would have spent collecting water, the dishwasher and the laundry machine are doing all the work for me, and the dirty water from all this washing is going to be carried away by another set of pipes and cleaned at a wastewater treatment plant. All I’ve got to do is push a couple of buttons. 

Single Family Rainwater Collection Tank in Rwanda. Image by Pete Isaac.

Single Family Rainwater Collection Tank in Rwanda. Image by Pete Isaac.


Toilet with Toilet Paper in Rwanda.  Image by Pete Isaac.

Toilet with Toilet Paper in Rwanda. Image by Pete Isaac.


Hand washing station in Rwanda.  Image by Pete Isaac.

Hand washing station in Rwanda. Image by Pete Isaac.

But 1 in 10 people in the world can’t sit on the couch because they don’t have access to the water and plumbing that would allow them to enjoy modern appliances. Forget about the couch. Women and girls trade time working and time at school to collect water. Believe it or not, 1 in 3 people don’t even have access to a toilet. That means more people have a cell phone than a toilet. When people lack clean water and sanitation, they have no system that reliably brings clean water to their home or takes the dirty water away, and that changes everything. Could you imagine a day without water? Without safe, reliable water and wastewater service? Most Americans take water, and the systems that bring it to and from homes and businesses, for granted. We turn on the tap, and safe drinking water reliably comes out. We flush the toilet, and we don’t have to think twice about how that wastewater will be taken away and safely treated before it is returned to the environment. 

 If you can’t imagine what that would be like, take a look at my friend Pete’s photos. Pete is a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Rwanda working with Les Compagnons Fontainiers du Rwanda (COFORWA), an organization focusing primarily on Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) projects.  The photos on the left are water and wastewater infrastructure improvements in a rural community. The first is a single family rainwater collection tank, the second a toilet, and the third a hand washing station. And yes, you read that correctly, these are infrastructure IMPROVEMENTS. Before these were installed, families had to fetch water multiple times a day in a jerrycan. Materials to treat water, like chlorine, are typically inaccessible or too expensive, so water from this rainwater tank is either used as is or boiled before drinking to prevent illness. It makes my evening routine look like a vacation in paradise.

Our nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure is aging and in need of investment, while drought, flooding, and climate change all place extra pressure on our systems. As our pipes age and our communities grow, we need water and sewer systems that are capable of meeting our needs now and well into the future. The investments we make today to repair and upgrade our systems protect them so that future generations will not have to imagine a day without life-sustaining water.

On September 15, we join together with communities across the country to raise awareness and education for Imagine a Day Without Water. What better time to learn about water issues from a global down to a local level?

  1. Check out Pete’s blog to follow his work in Rwanda, and make sure to read about his own experience without running water for 5 days
  2. Watch the Imagine a Day Without Water video to find out more about the water crisis facing America.  You can also take action by signing the petition.
  3. Watch HRSD’s SWIFT video to find out what HRSD is doing to ensure a sustainable source of groundwater for everyone in Hampton Roads and take a Virtual Tour of a local wastewater infrastructure improvement project happening now.
  4. Find out more about aging infrastructure in Hampton Roads and what you can do to help.   

I appreciate what I have the most when I am sitting on my couch listening to my appliances do the work, but access to clean water and sanitation is more than just a convenience.  It means more kids in school, fewer people getting sick, and for too many it can be the difference between life and death. We can do better. Water is essential, invaluable, and worthy of investment. So take a moment to give thanks, hug your toilet, and encourage others to value water. As they say, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.   

Posted in: Clean and safe tap water, Using water wisely, Waterways

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Go Organic with Worm Poop

Posted on August 31, 2016 by | Comments Off

My 5-year-old LOVES worms. She is scared to death of most creepy crawly things, spiders in particular, but she practically turns the worms in our yard into pets. They come second only to roly polys. I get it. There is just something about digging around in the dirt and discovering little critters that is so enjoyable and satisfying. Turns out this love of worms also runs on my husband’s side of the family, because I recently discovered his grandmother has her own “pet worms”, or worm farm as she more aptly describes.

Marj and her worms.

Marj and her worms.




Marj’s worm farm is all the way in Australia, but we visited my in-laws earlier this year so we had a chance to check out her worms for ourselves. Over the years Marj has turned most of her yard into an organic garden full of gorgeous flowers and tasty fruits and veggies. It puts my backyard to shame. Really it would put anyone’s yard to shame, so I should have known right away that she was onto something when she started talking about worms. Unlike my 5-year-old who simply enjoys collecting and talking to worms, Marj puts them to work.

Worms are great decomposers, and what needs decomposers? OK that’s a trick question, technically worms are detrivores and EVERYTHING needs decomposers and detrivores. They do super important work – remember the food web you learned in grade school – Producers, Consumers, and Decomposers? Producers are plants that make food with the energy from the sun and are eaten by the Consumers (herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores). Whenever anything dies or is pooped out, the decomposers break down the nutrients and return it to the soil to be used by more Producers. Does anyone else hear the “Circle of Life” from The Lion King in your head right now?

Worms at work in Hampton Roads.

Worms at work in Hampton Roads.

OK that is grossly simplified but back to my original question…COMPOST needs decomposers! Decomposers break down organic materials (like kitchen scraps) into more stable and non-smelly compost that is full of nutrients and can be used as a fertilizer and soil amendment. Microorganisms are also decomposers, but worm composting, or vermicomposting, can get it done faster than microorganisms alone. Instead of throwing your organic material into a compost pile or bin, you feed them to your pet worms and after happily feasting on your leftovers and lawn trimmings, they do what we all do. They poop. But this isn’t just any poop. The material that passes through the gut of a worm is called a worm casting, and according to Moose Hill Worm Farm, worm castings are made up of bacteria, enzymes, remnants of plant matter, and animal manure that create water-soluble plant nutrients that contain more than 50% more humus than what is normally found in topsoil. And get this – worms can process their body weight in food each day, so a pound of worms can process a pound of kitchen scraps EACH DAY. Not only are you keeping kitchen and yard waste out of landfills, you are performing the ULTIMATE type of recycling: turning waste into a resource!

Here are a few resources and tips to get you started:

1. For information on how to make your own vermicompost and care for your worms visit the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Vermicomposting site.

2. The Norfolk Botanical Garden offers Worm Composting workshops where you can get everything you need to make your worm bin – including the worms!

3. Moose Hill Worm Farm in Gloucester sells worm castings and has a blog with information and tips on how to use worm castings.

4. Worms do not do well in temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, so make sure to keep your worm bin in a shady spot during our hot summer months.

5. In addition to the worm castings, you can also get a nutrient-rich liquid fertilizer by draining your worm bin into a bucket.

Posted in: Gardening, Going Green, Lawn and landscape, Lawncare, Outdoor tips, Reduce reuse and recycle

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