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Advice on dealing with Tennessee water laws

 
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This has been costing me a lot of frustration/stress. Heres what I want to do ideally: build an offgrid cabin (very small, ~16 x 16) in a no building code county in TN. Ill have a sawdust compost toilet and a humanure compost pile on site, ill collect rainwater and have greywater from my shower / sink drain to my garden / or a perforated 50 gallon drum on gravel. Water for the sink / shower will be a hanging bucket with a spigot until  I develop a gravity fed cistern system.

Problems:

1. TN does not recongize greywater. All water is "wastewater".  Wash your hands in a sink? Thats wastewater and no different then blackwater from TN view.
2. Compost toilets are illegal. Only NSF-Certified compost toilets which run around ~$2000 which have a subscription service of compost products it needs to work such as branded sprays / culture liquids to assist in composting. Alternatively you can use a pit privy.
3. NSF-Certified compost toilet / Pit privy are illegal if you have "running water" unless there is an acceptable means to dispose of wastewater (which I think means, septic tank)
4. I called the dept and they said a septic is still required to live somewhere, even if its a dry cabin. I was told: "I still got to wash my hands and stuff and its go to go somewhere, right?"

Question:

1. Does anyone here live in TN? How do you have your water / septic / compost system set up and have you dealt with DIVISION OF WATER RESOURCES? Whats your experience?
2. Should I just build what I want and not advertise? The counties im looking at dont require building codes.
3. How would you proceed with this scenario?
 
Cameron Miller
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The law: https://publications.tnsosfiles.com/rules/0400/0400-48/0400-48-01.20140408.pdf
law.PNG
[Thumbnail for law.PNG]
 
pollinator
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Cameron Miller wrote:2. Should I just build what I want and not advertise? The counties im looking at dont require building codes.
3. How would you proceed with this scenario?


I'm not in TN, but on the acreage I bought there is a building classified as a "garage" that the previous owner was turning into a cabin (bathroom, generator, wood stove, etc.). The guy was living there full time, and basically just building what he wanted. My suggestion would be to make sure that you are on really good terms with your neighbors, because unless they complain, it's unlikely that an inspector is going to check on what you are doing.
 
Cameron Miller
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John Wolfram wrote:

Cameron Miller wrote:2. Should I just build what I want and not advertise? The counties im looking at dont require building codes.
3. How would you proceed with this scenario?


I'm not in TN, but on the acreage I bought there is a building classified as a "garage" that the previous owner was turning into a cabin (bathroom, generator, wood stove, etc.). The guy was living there full time, and basically just building what he wanted. My suggestion would be to make sure that you are on really good terms with your neighbors, because unless they complain, it's unlikely that an inspector is going to check on what you are doing.



Good info. Ive been calling different clerks / zoning departments to figure out how the backend works. So one county im looking at has no zoning regulations or special building permit requirements or enforcment, but the state of TN has the water laws, so I would ask if I buy a parcel and register my address with E-911 and then send all my mail / drivers license there I now live there ... will the "TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT AND CONSERVATION DIVISION OF WATER RESOURCES" be notified for all new registered addresses and follow up on all to make sure they get a septic permit?

The county is unsure and says I should contact the state, but so far the state says septic is required, but im not sure how they would ever find out, unless like I said they are notified somehow for all new addresses or someone complains. I dont think they'll take it kindly by me calling and asking how their enforcment works and how they are notified of new properties and how I can get around their rules lol.
 
Cameron Miller
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One county I called states that the local accessor notifies the state of new structures, then they may investigate from there and see if theres septic, etc. Then the accessor office I spoke with said this isnt true, they just add buildings to their accessor database for tax purposes so I really dont know who to believe.
 
pollinator
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A septic PERMIT is required to get an address, not a septic system. ;)
 
Cameron Miller
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R Scott wrote:A septic PERMIT is required to get an address, not a septic system. ;)



Its not required. I spoke with the E-911. They come mark your house and add it to their GPS system and give you an address. A septic permit is not required to get this.
 
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compared to other places, rural Tennessee has very minimalistic requirements and putting in a septic system or tank or whatever it is is the one thing you have to do to be on the right side of things. after you get that put in you can do anything you want. that's the way it is here where I live. the county has no dept of building or zoning and no codes or regulations for building and zoning. there was a big battle at county commission meeting here a couple years ago about this and they decided to keep things just as they are, no building or zoning codes or regulations. there are people with camper trailers that get away with no septic system. but they have to drag the camper to a dump station when the tank gets full.  in fact there is one right down the road from me, people living in camper trailer just like I described.
putting in septic can be as easy as getting a generic plan for one, getting materials needed and rent a small machine for a weekend to do it yourself  or you can pay some septic outfit to do it for you. the only other inspections they have here is if you want to have power and hooked into grid the power company will not hook you up trip they inspect what they are hooking up to. I not sure what states still allow a building for housing to be put up without septic, maybe rural Alaska.
 
pollinator
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If the installation of a septic system for health reasons is the only requirement insisted apon, I think it would be best to install one as suggested and then get on with things.
Its a small contribution to society that will allow you to move on and do what you want.
 
Cameron Miller
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Installing a spetic services no contribution to society except to appease bureaucrats so they can checkmark their clipboard they I am complying at the expense of thousands of dollars + time, of which I will continue to never use. The consensus ive gotten so far is many people in no restriction counties do as they wish and theirs not really any enforcment unless your actually doing something impactful like dumping sewage in to a waterway and someone reports you.

So I think the best route is to not comply with laws that are wrong, and just my compost toilet and grey water system. If, for some reason I am forced to comply down the road, I will install a septic as cheaply as possible, including a camper with septic, and continue to not use the septic so they will leave me alone.
 
John C Daley
pollinator
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Septic tanks in some situations do assist with personal health issues.
I guess you have a different view on the issue and I am interested as to why you are bothering about any of the issues you asked about?
 
bruce Fine
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I think that the septic thing is a reasonable regulation. ive seen places in Florida and Louisiana where people put in quasi drainage and they have after a while basically open sewers no different from what you might find in a refugee camp in a third world country, its not pretty and little children somehow are naturally drawn to playing in muddy water.
not to say that's what you would have but if it were open season and there were no regulations everyone that could build on the cheap and put in traditional bathroom would just be dumping foul used water and water out in the open.
in order to get regulators in Tennessee to change anything will be a hard nut to crack. , but might be a worthwhile endeavor with the advancements made in composting toilets and the true meaning of grey water
 
gardener
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Cameron Miller wrote:So I think the best route is to not comply with laws that are wrong, and just my compost toilet and grey water system. If, for some reason I am forced to comply down the road, I will install a septic as cheaply as possible, including a camper with septic, and continue to not use the septic so they will leave me alone.

I can empathize with regulations that often don't make sense. Septic systems can fail and pollute the environment just like home-made humanure done wrong can.

To me, what is critical, is to look at the goals of the laws - nothing toxic making it into the ground water - and how permaculture can do better than that. With permaculture principles, we not only want to keep ground water clean, we want to recapture the nutrients in urine and excrement and use them effectively and responsibly. Do that well, and maybe when and if there is a complaint, you will have something to show them that might help them see room for an exception.
 
pollinator
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Personally I really like a aerobic wormcomposting septic system, and you get to use running water inside the house.
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