My husband and I just moved to AK (Kenai Peninsula) and are hoping to buy land within the next year to build a small home on. I have some questions regarding plumbing.
Regarding Waste Water I have done some cursory reading up on gray water systems. I love the idea of piping water right outside to the place you want it (on gardens etc) but that's obviously a seasonal option in a cold climate. Most of what I read for cold climates involved burying a pipe below the frost line. That's fine and well, but a part of me says if you're going to do that, why not put in a septic system? Well one of the things we have learned in the month we have been here is that septics don't work particularly well in this environment. We were told they never really get warm enough be biologically active enough to break down the poop and whatever else is in there. So most people end up getting them pumped routinely instead. I am not sure where they take it after they pump it. But all in all it doesn't sound like a worth while option for this environment. All of that also makes doing a gray water system and a composting toilet or willow-feeder seem better. But I have a couple of questions regarding these.
1) Are there any other solutions out there for dealing with gray water in cold climates besides burying pipe? It seems to me that the line would have to be buried deep enough to keep from freezing, that it wouldn't be doing most garden plants near as much good. If that's the only way we aren't opposed to it, but we want to know our options.
2) Does anyone have an indoor Willow feeder? What is your experience? Does it smell? Most importantly - What is your process for the poo when the bucket is full?
3) Anyone in the far north using any type of composting toilet/willow feeder/ out house etc - does your poo decompose in this environment? I don't want to be perpetually behind, by creating more poo than can decompose in our few warm months here.
Regarding Clean Water Since we don't yet have land, we are not sure how we will get our water yet. If the required depth for a well is not too far, and we have the cash flow, we are not opposed to digging a well. I have also considered rain water collection. We get 11 inches of rain per year here, and lots of snow. I am not sure if thats enough especially with a small collection surface (we intend to build a smaller house - 600-800sqft footprint). Here are my questions.
4) Who is collecting rainwater in a cold climate? Do you collect in the winter as well as the summer?
5) What are the options for storing the water? Personally I don't like the idea of storing my water in plastic. Are there any other options?
6) Is anyone storing their collected rainwater in a crawl space?
7) I have thought of putting some smaller water tanks in the peak of the house. Water would be pumped up to them from either the stored rainwater/cistern or the well. Then it would be gravity fed to all faucets/ showers etc. This would remove the need for a pressure tank. If we leave for any period of time we could drain the pipes & the tanks if necessary to avoid freezing in the winter (we plan to use an RMH for heat, so no thermostat to keep it above freezing). Is this reasonable? Is there a better option?
I am not a builder or a plumber. My husband is very handy but has primarily worked in conventional building styles - hvac, city/well fed plumbing, septics etc. So we are trying to learn together about other options.
Some ideas about water first;
- its hard to store in the roof because its heavy
- store it in a basement that works where you are
- my signature has details about rainfall collection
- From your dimensions the rainfall will give you 5400 us gallons a year water.
- If you use a 20,000L [ 5000 ] gallon poly tank that may be enough for you, a barn would add more watert.
- I suggest you do not need the treat the water.
- A tank system as I describe in my signature will cost about $6000 tank, sand for tank base $400, pipes to house plumbing and gutter and first flush units $$700.
- pumps about $300.
John C Daley wrote:
- If you use a 20,000L [ 5000 ] gallon poly tank that may be enough for you, a barn would add more water.
- I suggest you do not need the treat the water.
John quotes the universal poly tank. Being plastic, it may be not that environmentally friendly but where you are, concrete will probably crack due to the freeze, thaw cycle and metal based tanks are likely to develop cracks at the seams. The liners are artificial rubberised poly or similar which is the same as a poly tank but with the additional carbon input from the steel production.
In this case, I think, John is on point. The thing is to prevent the super freeze in the system. Explore the options of what else is around your area.
One thing that came to mind while I was putting this together is the use of a rocket mass heater to maintain the soil warmth and use the waste to generate methane through bio-digestion. I think I read that there is a bacteria which tolerates lower temperatures. But not as low as you would get to.
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Thanks for your responses, John & Paul! Sorry it's taken me a while to respond.
John- Thanks for the reading material. I have read some of it before but could use a refresher, I think. Also your quick estimate on start up expense is super helpful. You mentioned not storing water tanks in the roof due to weight. I was thinking something like a 100gallon cold water tank, plus a hot water heater tank that would be heated via convection with a RMH. I was thinking that would be a light enough that weight wouldn't be as big of a concern. Water from the underground tanks or well could be pumped into the two tanks and then gravity fed to sinks/shower. This idea may be due to the fact that I really don't understand how conventional systems get the water from underground into your faucets. I guess they rely on either head pressure from the well itself, or a pressure tank to pump the water upwards? With my limited understanding, this was my solution to "how to get the water into the faucet with out electricity." We honestly have not decided what we will do about electricity yet. But I expect there will be a time at least in the beginning when we don't have it. In that case, a hand pump could be used to pump the water into the tanks in the roof. Every day you pump enough to keep them full, and gravity supplies the pressure to the sinks. Since heat rises, 100 gallons in the peak should hopefully make it a few days or more with out freezing if we leave and there is no fire in the house (planning on RMH being primary heat source). Pipes to faucets could be drained if conditions require it.
Would that work? Or is there a better/simpler solution for this situation?
Regarding waste water - sounds like I need to do some more reading. Thank you for sending the info on septics and cold zones. I will try to get them digested
Thanks again for your help! If there is anyone in the great white north who has implimented a graywater system and/or rain catchment I would love to hear about your experience!
100 Gall. tanks have 454 kgs of water alone.
I have such a tank in my small home.
It is supported on 4/ 8 x 2 inch beams sitting on walls 6 feet apart.
Its actually part of the bathroom ceiling and second floor structure.
Your situation seems to be a triangle or similar.
I pump water to it via a 12V RV pump and have a wood stove with a water jacket feeding copper pipes to and from the tank
The hot water is gravity feed to taps with insulated 1 inch pipes to reduce pressure loss.
The cold water is pressurized with the RV pump.
We dont have snow etc here in Bendigo Australia.
I can't speak to the septic and graywater side. It gets cold here in Maine, but not as cold as you :)
To the clean cold water storage, I would like to suggest the setup I was looking into as a backup. A hand pump that can pump into a pressure tank. Simple Pump makes some and I believe Bison pumps can also pump into a pressure tank. The pressure tank can work without electricity and can be put in a basement or first floor and still get the water around the house. Pump the tank full. Use the water like you would in any modern style house. When the pressure drops, just go pump it full again. A larger pressure tank would reduce the number of times you need to pump, and since you are considering a composting toilet, that takes away a large amount of water use.
As to hot water, I just want to throw out a well insulated, unpressurized, hot water storage tank as an idea. There are many kinds of tanks, my opinion is the unpressurized ones are the best. If you have the room to install a tank it can be a big help with efficiency and allowing different heat sources. Most of them will need some sort of electricity to pump water in and out though. The idea is to use heat sources to their full potential and be able to get hot water all the time. Solar water heaters are great during the day, but many people want to shower at night or early morning. With a tank it heats up during the day and keeps it hot all night for your use. A wood boiler? They work at their best efficiency when they can run at capacity... which is a waste when you want to turn the heat down for the night. I have heard from some people who have installed this type of system. They were in the northern US, zone 4 I think, using baseboard heat in a 2500sqft house. He could build a fire in the boiler and run it for about 4 hours, which would heat the entire tank to the desired temp. Then he let the fire go out and had enough to heat his house in the middle of the winter, plus hot showers for a family of 6, for like 30 hours before he had to build another fire. He was saving so much time and wood over a traditional wood boiler, which is already more efficient than many sources. I would imagine you could hook up a rocket stove water heater to a tank like that fairly easily.
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John- Your set up sounds very similar to what I have in mind. Does your gravity fed system flow to just your faucets, or to a shower as well? Is the pressure sufficient? In terms of freeze up risk, I'm hoping that having an RMH in the house, plus the large volume of water will keep things at bay for a weekend or so at a time in the winter. And adding a valve at the tank so that the pipes down to the faucets can be drained will help too. The winters here are generally mild for AK.. A couple weeks of -20F each year, but generally more like the 20's, with lots and lots of snow. If we need to leave when its very cold, we can drain the whole system, and re-fill the 100gal tanks when we come home. If someone in a cold climate has any experience and or advice on this i'd love to hear it.
Matt - Although winters here may be somewhat more severe than Maine, I'd be interested to know how people are doing grey water there if you know anything. Funny, my husband was actually looking at the Simple Pumps & Bison pumps just the other night. They seem like a great option. Is it safe to assume that this pump could also pump UP to a pressurized or unpressurized storage tank in a loft? Regarding hot water, I would definitely be looking to use an insulated tank. I didn't even know pressurized hot water tanks were an option. Could you describe why you see unpressurized as the better option? Since it would have to be somewhat elevated anyway to allow for the water to cycle via convection (no pump necessary) from the stove to the tank, it made sense to me to put it up in the loft, and then do a gravity feed to taps. That said I'm intrigued by the pressure tank idea for either the cold water or both hot and cold. I assume this could provide more pressure than a gravity system contained within the house? Do you know what kind of PSI it would produce? Are there other benefits of the pressure tank over a gravity fed system? Also, as the pressure in the tank increases, does the pumping get harder? I'm a pretty small person, and wouldn't want that to be a job for only the hubby.
There has been lots of great practical advice offered, so allow me to offer some impractical ideas.
Vermifilteration is a waste water treatment system that uses composting worms and carbon bedding as the filter.
The treated water is routed to a aeration chamber, and from there to an infiltration basin, leach field or other part of the environment.
Here's a link to a thorough explanation: https://www.vermifilter.com/how-it-works/secondary-vermifilter
Any liquid water will be quite warm compared to freezing and that heat could be exploited while the water is "disposed of".
A large greenhouse with in ground plantings could be irrigated with treated waste water thus capturing heat while allowing water to infiltrate the landscape.
My gravity water feed just goes to the hot water taps. I use much larger pipes than usually used, 1 inch, to get a good flow.
You need to ensure no bubbles can accumulate in the system or it will stop!
Although I don’t really have to deal with the COLD you do, I have built multiple off grid showers and grey water systems. The next one, taking from what I learned the hard way, will have:
A passive solar greenhouse on the south side of the house, at least partially buried the ground. The shower will be on the wall and use freeze proof faucets to keep the plumbing in the wall and drain directly into a “willow feeder” wicking bed planter.
I think kitchen “black” water is a tricky one. A mix of grease trap and Worm bed can turn it into grey water in practice, but not code approved of that is a problem for you. Legally you can still have a dry sink and just dump the bucket or dishpan out on the ground, and you might have to when it’s frozen.
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