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septic vs graywater

 
                        
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hey guys,  let's just hash this one out.
septic really doesn't seem that bad.  seems reliable and ecological.  low-flush toilets are nice ;  don't have to empty the toilet;  don't have to constantly worry about putting grease down the drain.  the main downsides seem the expense (about $3000 where I'm at) and the leechfield being wasted space  ;  and of course the invasiveness of the cut into the land.

but what about graywater systems, branch drains?  we live in a very wet climate so recycling water isn't the big issue.  you have all these plastic parts which are toxic and very specific.  you got to use all these toxic glues.  if the system ever fell --  and the system needed maintenance -- you'd be screwed  . right now, we have raw land, and looking to just move into our mobile home for now  -- so we have no gardens to feed yet.   

of course we'll have the washer dryer feed into graywater system, but does it really make sense to rely upon it for everything?  could you do something wrong and end up with a bunch of grease bringing rats?    in the end is it more sustainable and manageable to just get a small septic system? i mean, how much are we going to spend in the end on systems to manage all of our gray- and blackwater? (plus whatever we spend on the composting toilet)

not to mention, the legality issues ... 

thanks!
 
                          
Posts: 250
Location: Marrakai Northern Territory Australia
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if using composting toilet where are you getting black water from and why the need for septic?

grey water has many safe uses just need to monitor what goes down the drain, its realy quite simple
 
rose macaskie
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you need a septic tank for black water human manure water, for grey water  for washing in you don't maybe, if lots of kitchen bits get into it , do you kmind throwing the apple peel into the garden bits of meat is harder it woudl bring rats maybe.
if you're in a wet place its not so important it just backs up people in a dry one isn't a good deal of the world drier places.
      I try not to use too many cleaning products dirty product filled water must be important in a wet place as well as a dry one. We fill our water full of chemical shit that is supposed to clean polishes and all sortts shampoos you name it.

  I just saw a great video on a grey water system called Creating a home grey water system. It is useful for people in wet places because in the old days the dirty water got filtered through the earth and then slowly found its way to rivers and the great lakes for example, by which time microbes and fungi in the ground had cleaned out the soaps and such that we fill water with. With our drains the water gets carried straight to the great lakes without being cleaned up by biological cleaners microbes and fungi an dplants on the way.
  Look up rain gardens from the great lakes area made to clean greywater before it gets streamed of to the great lakes. agri rose macaskie.
 
Leah Sattler
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having a grey water system will help your septic system last longer and operate more efficiently, so I would say the expense is worth it especially if you are already going to be digging around to put in a regular septic system. if you live in a wet climate it might be even more important for you to divert grey water.

your drain field doesn't have to be wasted space. you can grow shallow rooted things and utilize it for animals or recreation (yard).

you really want to avoid putting grease down the drain for either greywater or blackwater systems. having had the unpleasant experience of having to live with a failing septic system for a while I suggest you heed oft presented advice to not use a food disposal or put grease down the drain if you have a septic system. its main purpose is really to treat human waste not all household water.
 
                        
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thank you all so much for your replies! this is an important topic.

so we definitely plan to put most things on greywater, i guess the real question is: do we need a septic at all.  mostly concerned i guess with food scraps bringing animals, and the cost and human labor involved in the system (including maintaining the compost toilet)  vs. just getting a septic.
 
                          
Posts: 250
Location: Marrakai Northern Territory Australia
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google up Humanure and get free download of book 3rd edition just finished reading it myself and it has compleatly turned me off septic systems, there is a better way
 
rose macaskie
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HUmanure was the book the woman who gave a conference on permeculture talked of that i was talking of on paul wheatons page on poop. I was trying to find her video to mention her name today  but couldn''t. That its horrible doing things you haven't done before and particularly don't want to get wrong. And messing up humaure treatment or dirty dishwater full of chemicals or soaps you wish to use to water plants without killing them ,might just be one of the things you don't want to get wrong, and another is spending all the money on it and having to spend it again. agri rose macaskie.
 
                        
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yeah, I'm reading the humanure, it sounds like he has 3 criticisms about septic:

1.  too many in a small area , more than the soil can handle (not our problem, on 35 acres)

2. people put chemicals and stupid stuff in them (we never use any chemicals for anything)

3.  you waste your water

in our wet area we have more water than we know what to do with, and we don't have any gardens yet to use the water . if we can just get a septic system we can move out there and actually have time to make gardens.  but you know, if anyone has any more comments,  I'm very appreciative.
 
                                  
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Elicia,

While local codes vary, in general you can legally lead greywater directly to plantings without a septic tank. This is good, because IF you put graywater into a septic tank and store it for 24 hours it becomes legally reclassified as blackwater (it has sufficient nutrient load to become biologically very active and develops a pretty powerful odor). Once it's legally 'blackwater,' you MUST use an expensive leach field to dispose of it.

A common variation in local codes is disallowing use of greywater from the kitchen sink. This is because kitchen greywater has the highest nutrient load -- which is simultaneously why kitchen water is the most valuable. It also tends to carry a lot of fats, however, and these are slower to break down. For longest soil life a grease trap can and prob should be used to remove some of these fats. At a minimum you'd want a good mulch layer UNDER the kitchen sink outlet as well as above it.

You can check local codes (county judges can generally grant local code variances if you have a progressive one), but if you're willing to work outside them, in wet climates greywater can safely be run straight from drains to mulch-filled basins planted with trees (without trees waterlogged soil would result). The basins should be on high ground or be surrounded by berms, so that they don't flood with rainwater. As long as you don't use salt-sensitive trees, and the mulches are deep enough and kept replenished, this setup should work indefinitely. In dry climates more care is needed to avoid soil-killing salt buildups.

Art Ludwig has written a definitive and readable book on the subject of greywater (Create Your Own Oasis, maybe), his website is here: http://oasisdesign.net/
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
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Polyethylene pipe is now available. It's much, much less toxic, and overall easier to work with.

Glues don't work on it, so the fittings are all mechanical. Very clever stuff.

The main drawbacks are that it has some shape memory to it, it isn't as stiff, the fittings are more complicated & expensive (though I think pipe itself is cheaper), and it isn't as fire resistant. None of those should be a show stopper for your greywater system.
 
Leah Sattler
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good grey water article  http://oasisdesign.net/downloads/arGWoverstoryHI2-2002.pdf
 
Robert Harsell
Posts: 19
Location: Greenville, Augusta County, Virginia
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elicia McCoy wrote:yeah, I'm reading the humanure, it sounds like he has 3 criticisms about septic:

1.  too many in a small area , more than the soil can handle (not our problem, on 35 acres)

2. people put chemicals and stupid stuff in them (we never use any chemicals for anything)

3.  you waste your water

in our wet area we have more water than we know what to do with, and we don't have any gardens yet to use the water . if we can just get a septic system we can move out there and actually have time to make gardens.&nb, sp; but you know, if anyone has any more comments,  I'm very appreciative.




Depending on the area, acreage may not be the limiting factor. I live in an area with karst geology. During dry times the water table is hundreds of feet below the surface. Following times of abundant precipitation the situation reverses and the water table rises to the surface. I have sewage coming up on my land from neighbors over half mile away. I refuse to put fecal matter into the ground because of this. However, I'm the only one I know of in my area to have adopted this attitude. We have perhaps the best water in the world, Blue Ridge Mountain spring water coming right out of the ground. The prevailing attitude toward this water is, "Don't drink it, crap into it."

I don't know what is the geology in your area, but it might be worth investigating. Our soil is mostly silt with some clay pans scattered around at various depths below the surface. It's a varied and complex geology. Water perks well through the silt, so perk tests in our area always allow for septic systems. But perk tests don't apply here. It's not a problem of not perking, it's a problem of the sewage going down like it's supposed to, but then coming back up to the surface when the water table reverses direction. Karst geology means underground water passages where water moves quickly from one area to another. With this geology, it's possible for me to have sewage coming up on my property from people several miles away.

 
Ben Mosley
Posts: 49
Location: Upstate,SC Zone 7a
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We currently have a split system,grey water and septic.I used to help my uncle install septic systems.So I know how the generic systems work.There has been a techno revolution in septic since I worked for my uncle.My three places have the split system.Here is how it works.The septic system get everything from the toilets and kitchen sink.The grey water is gravity run to our front road side ditch and consist of washer,shower/tub, and bathroom sink water.We don't currently have filters on the outflow.We have never had issues with this system.The oldest system was installed in 1954 and the newest was installed in 1986.Other than cleaning out the septic tank every 15 to 20 years,they really are efficient systems.I'll get a pic of the pipe we use and out flow today.
 
Ben Mosley
Posts: 49
Location: Upstate,SC Zone 7a
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This grey water outflow needs a filter.This is lint from the washer.This one was installed in spring of 1986 by my uncle.This is a 3 bed 2 bath mobile home.




This one is from the main house and is currently in use.There's no filter on this one either.The house is 3 bed 1 bath and built my my granddad in 1954.


The third property has the grey water ran into an under ground gravel field.So I can't get pics of that one.It's connected to a 2 bed 1 bath mobile home.It was installed in early winter 1976 by my dad.

Here is the pipe that was used it took three 100' rolls and this is a 10' section that was left over.We keep it for emergency repairs.So far it's never been used for repairs.

1.5 inch Silver Line




 
Mary Ann Asbill
Posts: 123
Location: Western North Carolina
 
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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Robert Harsell wrote:

Depending on the area, acreage may not be the limiting factor. I live in an area with karst geology. During dry times the water table is hundreds of feet below the surface. Following times of abundant precipitation the situation reverses and the water table rises to the surface. I have sewage coming up on my land from neighbors over half mile away. I refuse to put fecal matter into the ground because of this. However, I'm the only one I know of in my area to have adopted this attitude. We have perhaps the best water in the world, Blue Ridge Mountain spring water coming right out of the ground. The prevailing attitude toward this water is, "Don't drink it, crap into it."

I don't know what is the geology in your area, but it might be worth investigating. Our soil is mostly silt with some clay pans scattered around at various depths below the surface. It's a varied and complex geology. Water perks well through the silt, so perk tests in our area always allow for septic systems. But perk tests don't apply here. It's not a problem of not perking, it's a problem of the sewage going down like it's supposed to, but then coming back up to the surface when the water table reverses direction. Karst geology means underground water passages where water moves quickly from one area to another. With this geology, it's possible for me to have sewage coming up on my property from people several miles away.



Robert, thanks for the information on karst geology and why septic is such a bad idea in such areas. We live in a karst region (SW Wisconsin) so here's another reason to avoid septic.

Jerry
 
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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Elicia, as Ben Mosley pointed out separating graywater and septic is a current practice. If you have a septic, this allows it to be sized much smaller, saving installation cost and reducing the frequency of service.

If you're going to have a graywater system, a bit of good design will allow the kitchen drains to go that route also. Our Wisconsin state building code allows for properly designed graywater systems, so no legal issues.

Now you're left with blackwater, or some sort of human waste handling system. Hauling buckets of humanure is not the only way. A commercial composting toilet would meet code in most states. That's under $1500 and easy to install yourself. Much cheaper than a septic, and much less work than hauling buckets!

The other option I like is a vault toilet. That's what the code people would call it. The best design I've seen has a large concrete vault, with an expanded metal screen above the bottom which holds starter compost and worms. The worms eat your shit, compacting it and making great fertilizer. I've seen/used these at an ecovillage. The worms do such a good job, the vaults still didn't need to be emptied after 15 years of steady use! The most amazing composting toilet system I've seen. By the way, installing urine diverters has improved the performance, and diverted most of the nutrients in human waste for garden use. diluted 2:1 water:urine, it's a great fertilizer.

I will look for a link to a drawing, or I'll scan my feeble drawing.
 
jennifer dyck
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I want to suggest a book called the Septic System Owners Manual by Lloyd Kahn for me it meant the Septic Field For Dummies! by reading it I got a clear understanding What, Why, How and for Whom this system is built, then I could adapt to the Zoning, the terrain, slope, weather and volume of usage. An informed homegrown designer can be quite successful and creative.... Cheers from Jen
 
Lucas Harrison-Zdenek
Posts: 90
Location: Southeast Michigan, Zone 6a
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We have been looking into the humanure method instead of a septic system for a little while now. My father likes to tell me that septic is totally safe, and there is no reason to go any other way. I have read about humanure and the many benefits of using that method and I disagree with my dad that septic is better, but I'm not entirely sure why I disagree. I mean, the septic is a waste of material that could otherwise be cycled back into a well designed system, but there is a lot more maintenance involved, as well as the labor of removing the catchment regularly and making sure everything gets up to temp so it is no longer harmful. Am I crazy for arguing for the more sustainable humanure system over septic without a lot of reason? I just feel like, growing up with a septic tank and leech field, septic is a waste of space, waste of water and unnatural due to the giant plastic tank being buried in the ground. Please someone tell me I haven't lost my marbles! Give me some extra reasons to be on the compost toilet side of the argument. Or tell me why septic may actually be better! Thanks!
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Location: Ireland
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Hi Lucas,

I've read your post with interest, and although I'm a tad late in getting back to you - I hope the following may be of some use. This is from my new book Septic Tank Options and Alternatives:

"The  principal  reasons  people  usually  have  for  seeking  to  avoid  using using flush toilets are typically summarised as follows:
They  are  very  wasteful  of  clean  water  resources;
They  are  typically  polluting  of  fresh  water  in  the  receiving  environment;
They  waste  nutrient  rich  organic  matter  and  high-­fertiliser  value  urine,  which  could  otherwise  be  reintroduced  into  the  soil."

A good septic tank system can work well - but certainly here in Ireland, about half of them simply don't work well. I hope you find a satisfactory solution to your current situation.

 
Lucas Harrison-Zdenek
Posts: 90
Location: Southeast Michigan, Zone 6a
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Feidhlim Harty wrote:

"The  principal  reasons  people  usually  have  for  seeking  to  avoid  using using flush toilets are typically summarised as follows:
They  are  very  wasteful  of  clean  water  resources;
They  are  typically  polluting  of  fresh  water  in  the  receiving  environment;
They  waste  nutrient  rich  organic  matter  and  high-­fertiliser  value  urine,  which  could  otherwise  be  reintroduced  into  the  soil."



I love the points you have just made, thank you! I recently read an article on the Permaculture News site that had similar sentiments. The idea that we take clean water and flush our waste away with it makes little sense and, even worse, is terribly wasteful when you think about developing nations where people are dying from a lack of clean, potable water. And, of course using the stuff that comes out of our bodies and cycling it back into the system is of high priority to return nutrients to the soil.

Thanks again!
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Location: Ireland
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Happy to oblige Lucas Thanks for the kind words.

Féidhlim
 
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