The other side of the fair: Thinking green

Even at a place with as many sights and smells as the N.C. State Fair, water holds a kind of magnetic attraction.

People walking out of the N.C. Green exhibit invariably stop when they see the water flowing out of the downspout into the urn-shaped rain barrel. The next reaction is words to the effect of “We need one of those.”

Most people can't afford to spend thousands of dollars on roof-top solar panels. But the model home display constructed for the N.C. Green exhibit shows some less ambitious improvements that homeowners can make to save electricity, capture rainwater, reduce power and water bills and reduce runoff pollution.

The exhibit features energy-efficient triple-pane windows, foam-filled vinyl siding, rain barrels, an above-ground cistern and permeable pavers that look like beautiful worn bricks with slightly rounded edges.

The pavers, manufactured by Pine Hall Brick of Winston-Salem, are designed to allow more rainwater to seep through the joints between them.

Fine gravel is used rather than sand in the joints to create more crevices for water to penetrate and so reduce stormwater runoff.

“This is an education exhibit, so we want people to know what their options are,” said Natalie Alford, a spokeswoman for the N.C. State Fair.

The star of the display is the decorative urn-shaped rain barrel, which is both familiar and arresting.

“People don't realize water is a precious commodity,” said David Jessup of Ramseur, who paused in front of the cistern. “I think this is a fantastic idea. I'm looking for ways to conserve.”

Dan Danford, owner of Rainwater Conservation Systems of Raleigh, which supplied the barrels on display, said more than half of the water used in a typical house goes to such non-drinking purposes as washing clothes and flushing toilets. Filtered rainwater works just as well for those purposes, Danford said.

“This is about what people who are in a home can do to reduce water and save the environment,” Danford said. “The benefits are immense. That one gallon of rainwater you use is one less gallon of water washing into storm sewers, where it has to be treated as stormwater.”

The rain barrels on display ranged in size from 55 gallons to more than 200 gallons and in price from less than $100 to more than $1,400 for larger cisterns with electric pumps.