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Grey Water and The Man

 
Kdan Horton
Posts: 34
Location: North West Georgia
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Hello Permies! Been lurking for a while getting all kinds of great ideas, some of which are already coming to fruition! I've got the property and am building a tiny cabin to live in on days off to work on creating my Permaculture Nirvana. But I have a story to tell.
We originally put an offer in on 9 acres in Polk County Tennessee, (Southeastern Tn). In doing my due diligence, I went to planning and Zoning and the health department for the county. I asked about the permitting process, the septic permit process and all that kind of stuff you need to know to make the authorities believe you are a normal person looking to build a normal house. So I sorta slipped in a question or two about alternative systems like grey water and composting toilets and so forth. The guy in charge of inspecting and signing off on building and septic permits flat out told me forget it. Grey water systems are totally out of the question and only 2 commercial composting toilets were allowed as an alternative to a conventional toilet, but you still need a black water septic system since grey water systems are not permit-able. Nothing containing water where the water touches the human body or laundry can be disposed in anything other than a traditional septic system.
Now I understand we're all common sense and permaculture fans here, so no one is really following the International Building codes adopted by virtually every political ruling body in the States, but if one was planning a grey water system on a new structure that you were permitting, hide it when the inspector comes by. I bet in most places, he/she wouldn't recognize a grey water system anyway.

That said we're building a composting toilet, IE; bucket, into the cabin, but when we build the thermal mass house I'll probably be going traditional septic. Didn't end up in backwoods Tn anyway. Found more/better land in North Georgia. Somewhere nice and rural, with less banjo music than Polk County Tn.

I'm just sayin...
 
Alice Lynn
Posts: 23
Location: Tennessee
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I can relate to this. I called the state department for water and sewage, and the guy actually told me it was impossible to have a toilet that doesn't use water, composting toilets are useless (and all secretly use water to flush), and that I had to use a septic tank for grey water or the whole universe state of Tennessee would be contaminated from diseases from human skin. On the plus side though, rain water collection is apparently legal.

I've debated even bothering to get permits, simply because I can't imagine very many people do so here. At least not out in the county, it may be different in the city. I called to ask what type of foundation the previous house had on my land, since it's weird (shaped like a bar with a bunch of other bars crossing it, like a spine and rib cage), and I was told they don't keep permits after 5 years. But even in the city, when I built a shed a few years back the inspector just drove by and did a "from the street" check. Considering it was in back of the house there is no way he could have seen it, but I didn't feel like arguing. Mostly permits seem to be a way to collect fees.

Besides, there are a lot of homes made from scrap parts of cars, fences, pallets, sheds, etc. all over the place (two on my street even) and no one appears to be doing anything about it. Also the code officials haven't been that pleasant to talk to. They brush me off and try to get me to have my husband call back =[

Since it's so lenient I think what I plan on doing is having an initial inspection with traditional plumbing, and then switching over after they leave. I lucked out and all of that is already installed, so I won't lose much money on it. They don't actually check to see if the septic system works (I was told that's "my husband's responsibility" ah, good ole sexism). Wording seems to be everything here. Like as long as the owner is confident then they are too, and they don't want a bunch of extra details to stress out about. The county where I plan on building doesn't even require a detailed plan if the house is under 2,500 square feet. Which seems reckless, to be honest. I mean, how awful would it be to build the house and then have it fail inspection? I think they give a couple of years (and more fees of course) to fix it though.

Still, it's nice when there is a way to do it "responsibly." Congrats on finding a better place out of this crazy state =D I've got too much family, and heritage here so I'm stuck. (Plus land is so incredibly cheap here.)
 
chrissy bauman
Posts: 131
Location: Sunset Zone 27, Florida
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right, it doesn't really matter where you go, most all areas have those rules. you probably will have to install all those 'normal' things and then put your system in unpermitted, afterward.
which means covertly.
my mom built a huge carport and large 6 foot fence all without permits. no one even noticed.
http://oldescrubland.blogspot.com/2013/02/covert-urban-homesteading-part-1-plants.html
 
Vern Faulkner
Posts: 35
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I'm in the process of trying to design a grey-water recycling system whereby bath and (maybe) shower water is returned to flush toilets. I am also looking at a system to collect rainwater to supplement that system. This is a good half-gap measure, as the grey water (non-particulate matter, note: no veggie bits from kitchen) is used twice, and ultimately does go into the septic system....
 
Rick Roman
pollinator
Posts: 442
Location: Pennsylvania Pocono Mt Neutral-Acidic Elv1024ft AYR41in Zone 5b
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Vern, I'm very interested in your grey water system that feeds the toilet. Please keep posting your progress. Thanks
 
R Scott
Posts: 3305
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
32
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grey water flushing toilets is more common in places like Australia that actually are starting to put proper value on water because it is so hard to get. You can buy an under-sink system to do this today in the US, but it is expensive and they use filters and extra chlorine to keep it from going black too quickly.

 
Robert Ray
gardener
Posts: 1350
Location: Cascades of Oregon
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Oregon grey water code are relatively new having just been approved last April. Any greywater that sits over 24 hours is considered black water and has to have a septic tank that is 2/3rds the size of what would be required if if you had conventional toilets. Composting toilets are allowed. Currently no permitting is required for composting toilets, and a minimal permit charge is required for greywater and its use in subsurface irrigation in residential use.
 
Vern Faulkner
Posts: 35
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Rick Roman wrote:Vern, I'm very interested in your grey water system that feeds the toilet. Please keep posting your progress. Thanks


Will do. I figure that the system needs/should only involve bath/shower water (on the lighter side of grey/gray), involve a system that drives water to the toilets through something as simple as an RV pump.

My backup plan will be to have a switchable input - well or rainwater - in case inspectors have a conniption fit. I suspect nobody is gonna complain about using rainwater to flush with.
 
Ernie DeVore
Posts: 24
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If you're well outside the city limits, like myself, you may just find that inspectors don't drop by. They cannot just approach your property and look for code violations. They have to have a complaint in order to come out to you. As long as you're not just running grey water off onto the ground, you will probably escape their notice.

I put myself outside of their jurisdiction by not creating "grey water" or "human waste". Those are terms they use. You don't have to use them. You recycle water and you create compost, neither of which activities are regulated by the state.

The system doesn't want you to be free, and so long as you use their words and follow their rules ... you won't be.

 
Ernie DeVore
Posts: 24
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Oh, I wanted to share with you our solution for toilets.

I live in a very arid region in Texas. To waste so much as a drop of water would be a problem for us. We're not hooked up to city water and we don't have a well. We collect rainwater off the roof and we use that for all of our purposes.

We bought those orange Home Depot buckets for cheap. There's around $3, I think, and they'll last for years. I've got about 8 or so of them laying around here. We put in a layers of leaves, sawdust, and woodchips and then drop a toilet seat over the top of the bucket and do our business. Then we cover it up with another layer and sometime later the next person comes along and repeats the process. When the bucket is full, it is carried to a compost bin and dumped and a new one is started.

For inside the house we have a little bench with a hole in it we can slide the toilet under. For outside the house it's just a bucket in the woods with a toilet seat hanging on a stump.

These very expensive systems make me crazy. I think it's all part of the plot of the industrial systems ... they want to make it as expensive as possible to "live simply" in order to keep people from doing it.

I find that those buckets are the most comfortable toilets I've ever sat on. I'm about 6' and sometimes on standard toilets, if I'm there for very long, my legs will fall asleep. Not on my buckets though ... love those things and would never go back. In addition, I get to generate wonderful compost in order to augment our horrible soil here.

Someday anthropologists will be digging through the ruins of our civilization and say, "Look at all the wonders these people had! Their technology! Whatever in the world could have possibly have killed them all?"

And then they'll pull an ancient porcelain throne out from the ruins and all will exclaim in horror, "The savages! They flushed all their soil fertility down the drain!"

 
Ardilla Esch
Posts: 198
Location: Northern New Mexico, Zone 5b
5
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I am in an area where the wastewater inspections are a given and fairly strict. Greywater is allowed but you still need septic for the toilet and kitchen sink - so even if we used a composting or sawdust toilet we would need septic for the kitchen sink. We bit the bullet and put in an advanced treatment system (Sludgehammer - basically a septic tank aerator). All wastewater goes to the septic tank but then is pumped to irrigation after treatment. There is a small gravity drainfield in case of power failure or below zero temps.

It is more involved than I had originally hoped, but we couldn't work around the inspectors. Also, this seemed better than putting in greywater and septic both.

I've heard of people installing the septic tank, getting it inspected, then pumping it out and removing it (inspections are done wet here), then plumb grey water lines. This option was a little too shady for my tastes. Also, I don't think the supplier would take a return on a dirty and wet tank...
 
Jen Shrock
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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Just a quick idea on using greywater multiple times. Couldn't you use your shower water to wash your clothes and then us the clothes washing water to flush the toilets? You would be using the same water 3 times before disposing of it.
 
Ardilla Esch
Posts: 198
Location: Northern New Mexico, Zone 5b
5
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Jen Shrock wrote:Just a quick idea on using greywater multiple times. Couldn't you use your shower water to wash your clothes and then us the clothes washing water to flush the toilets? You would be using the same water 3 times before disposing of it.


I've seen a set-up with grey water used for toilet flushing. It works but the toilet bowl never looks clean (if that is important to you). Occassionally there can be some odors if/when the water in the toilet tank sits for a while. Any time to store grey water you can run into issues. The people I know that did this eventually disconnected the greywater connection to the toilet.
 
rodney johnson
Posts: 20
Location: canada ontario
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What about a sand filtration system works well for swimming pools, than have the water stored in septic tank for gardening, I recall someone from the old days where they use to take dish water and just toss it on the veggie garden as the soap would also act as a pest and bacteria solution?
 
                                            
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Helloooo from Great Lakes Shire NSW Australia. We have just joined this site after finding links to the forum on Google when researching Grey Water Systems. Already we are blown away with the awesome ideas such as rerouting the shower and bath water to the dunny and the washing machine. We never would have thought of these two major ideas and are thrilled to try them. We are in the middle of nowhere so tank water and rain are precious resources for us and with our roof full of holes and only one small peice of unrusted guttering available for rainwater collection to our 20,000L/5,000G tank well.... we worry constantly..

That said we have recently come to the idea of using 4 old cast iron baths salvaged from freeby sites nearby all lined up and plumbed as a Greywater system to irrigate our "work in progress" permaculture garden (we think we will be going with swales on contour). Does anyone on here have any good info on projects they have done which are similar so we can avoild making costly mistakes (yes we are pretty povo but happily so)...

Our plan so far is to sink these 4 into the ground end to end and fill them with different media and plants with the idea that the last one can be our duck pond (with some bricks in it to help them in and out) and then we can irrigate the garden swales via a hose or drip system. the question is how to link them together? Any idea's would be appreciated. We were thinking 90mm pipe between them but we are also a bit worried about the chemicals in PVC (yes even the supposidly new envio friendly stuff).

Thoughts anyone? Oh and as a last note. We are very very very anti Government and Local Council so we won't be asking permission for or telling them anything and will be getting two Geese to keep nosey council rangers out....hehehehe
 
                      
Posts: 9
Location: Spearfish SD
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I think it's important to not give up the battle on greywater/composting toilets and changing the minds of government officials. It's all in the delivery and knowing your stuff. Read the Internationals Plumbing Code. I realize this is about as interesting as watching paint dry but if you go in there and know what your talking about you will get a lot farther. Composting toilets are permitted under NSF 41 in the international code. Yes they are expensive toilets, but what is this ideal worth to you? Most states have greywater code. The trick to dealing with government folks is if it is perceived that you are making more work for them. Take that away and conversations will go smoother. Start at the local level and work your way up. Explain why these systems are superior to existing systems. I own a natural building company in SD. We are building the states first load bearing Strawbale house, with a composting toilet (SunMar Excel) and an engineered Greywater system that allows kitchen sink water. All code approved!!! It took 4 years to get all the planning done, we changed some laws at the local level, and got the city's support which helped the state feel more at ease about the system. I can be done folks, you just can't give up. If everyone that is trying to do good things, and be innovative give's up after dealing with one or two grouchy civil servants, then nothing will be accomplished. Keep at it and good luck.
Pangeafarm.
 
Clara Florence
Posts: 47
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Kristy and Kai Cameron wrote:

That said we have recently come to the idea of using 4 old cast iron baths salvaged from freeby sites nearby all lined up and plumbed as a Greywater system to irrigate our "work in progress" permaculture garden (we think we will be going with swales on contour). Does anyone on here have any good info on projects they have done which are similar so we can avoild making costly mistakes (yes we are pretty povo but happily so)...


We havent set up our water gardens as greywater systems specifically. But they are good water conservators and filtration systems just as they are. Our water gardens are growing water chestnuts in them. And also some floating water weeds, duckweed, frogbit and azolla. The floati g water weeds grow very quickly into a dense mat that prevents wate evaporation but still always rain water to be caught in the system. When I was researching I discovered that duck weed is already used in sewerage treatment plants in SE Qld. Apparently it is so good at filtering toxins that they have built large ponds where treated swearage is pumped in order to be filtered and released back into the environment. Our water gardens are standing tubs where the water has been sitting for half a year without being changed. I have drunk some of this water and it is clean and pure. Plants that grow well in water gardens include....

Water chestnut
Calla lily
Swamp iris
Kang kong
Sagittaria
Water hyacinth - thisis a noxious weed, do not let it into the environment if you use it.

Floating weeds - duckweed, frogbit, azolla

We started our water gardens with a tiny bit if the floating weeds purchased for $5, They filled 3 large tubs in a matter of weeks. We also realised that our local cow paddocks are filled with azolla and we could have gotten it for free. Water gardens are cery simple, we just tossed aout 4" of soil in the bottom of the tubs, filled with water and threwinthe plants. They are a haven for the local frogs also.
 
Jerry McIntire
Posts: 107
Location: Oak savannah - Viroqua, Wisconsin - zone 4 - 34"/yr
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solar tiny house trees
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chrissy bauman wrote:right, it doesn't really matter where you go, most all areas have those rules. you probably will have to install all those 'normal' things and then put your system in unpermitted, afterward.
which means covertly.
my mom built a huge carport and large 6 foot fence all without permits. no one even noticed.
http://oldescrubland.blogspot.com/2013/02/covert-urban-homesteading-part-1-plants.html


No, not all areas have those rules. Here in Wisconsin, the state code spells out that graywater systems, properly designed, are legal as are composting toilets. This state code trumps local codes. There are other states where the plumbing code is more up to date. That's why so many people move to the left coast... Bottom line, check with your state code and you may be able to go around local inspectors who just need to be educated as to what is legal.

Jerry
 
Tom Connolly
Posts: 178
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Back in the '80s studies were being done on water hyacinths to be used as water treatment plants. I believe there were small municipalities in the eastern half of the u.s. that were using them as part of the treatment of their sewage water - part, but not all. I don't think they were used in the first phase. I am not familiar with grey water codes. Would they prevent you from putting in a 4' deep pond, growing water hyacinths in it and then sending your grey water into that pond? Duck weed is good but you can only use as much as you have surface area of the pond. Water hyacinths will grow to be quite tall, so you can get more water purification from a much smaller area. Duck weed is also a nuisance as well as water hyacinths. Duck weed is a good source of food for fish,and, strangely enough, ducks. I have read of people harvesting water hyacinths and using the plant to make biofuels....so maybe a water purifying pond can be labeled as something else, i.e. a water hyacinth farm or duck week farm, to get around the issue of it having gray water. Mussels have been used to purify waterways...I am wondering if they would purify greywater, and if so, if they could be eaten if they were used for that purpose?

RE: zoning laws, doing home projects that normally require permits without the permit often does not become an issue until you either try to refinance the property, sell it, or have some kind of disaster that requires an insurance claim. THAT is the time when not having a permit will bit you on the fanny.
 
Tom Connolly
Posts: 178
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"The floating water weeds grow very quickly into a dense mat that prevents wate evaporation but still always rain water to be caught in the system." Does this also prevent air from entering the water? Do you have problems with stagnation? Duckweed will often grow so quickly and profusely that it will cover the pond completely and which prevents light from entering the water, thus killing any plants underneath because they have nothing to photosynthesize The result - a dead pond.
 
Rebecca Baskin
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Great work has been done by paul stamets with mushrooms to clean/filter water. Check out his site: www.fungi.com . Or search his name.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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