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Rethinking our water - not using it, but disposing of it

 
S Carreg
Posts: 260
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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We live in a large house fitted with a modern septic tank system, mains water, and all modern conveniences (washing machine, bath, dishwasher, toilets, etc). We live in a very high rainfall area so while we are not wasteful with the water, it's really not something we need to worry about. However it's so wet here that it's actually creating problems with the septic system (at the moment we can't use it as the drain field is completely sodden so it's backed up). We're thinking about all the ways that we can change out behaviour and create new infrastructure (long term project!) to address this. Basically, we're happy to keep using the mains water, but need to come up with ideas to bypass the conventional drainage system. So for example, we will build an outdoor composting toilet, for now for occasional 'emergency' use, but perhaps transitioning to that more in the future.

I'm interested in building an outdoor shower but that would certainly not be useable for large portions of the year. I LOVE the idea of a little bath-house with a fire, but that's a very long-off dream.

What else? Washing clothes? We have a small river on the border, and are in the fortunate position of knowing the entire upstream course of the waterway - it is short and completely clean, no industry, no big road, no agrculture, only some low-stocked sheep grazing. I was thinking about trying some system where I put clothes in a large net bag or box and tie this in the (fast-flowing) water for a day or two - would this get them clean? I might not want to do this for all laundry, but it would be interesting if it worked.

We have been using the dishwasher because it is more efficient in terms of the energy to heat the water (long complicated situation) but can't at the moment due to the drains. Obviously it's not a problem to wash by hand in a bowl, and currently I am doing this and then tipping the water out the door rather than draining it down the system. Could I just unplumb the sink from the system, and drain it into a bucket that gets emptied once a day or something?

So this is a slightly unusual situation in that we can use more or less as much mains water as we like, but want to avoid using the drainage system. Does anyone else have any ideas for other ways to deal with:

toilet needs
bathing
washing dishes
washing clothes
miscelanneous kitchen and bathroom use (handwashing etc)
 
R Scott
Posts: 3305
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Not that unusual. Very common in rural America to try to limp along with an aging septic system because it is somewhere between stupidly expensive and impossible to repair it to current code.

We have washed clothes the "old fashioned way." Not a good plan if you do not have good DRYING weather.

It is usually easy to unhook washing machine: http://oasisdesign.net/greywater/laundry/index.php

The dishwasher and sink are considered black water many places because of the food present. Many people bucket the water without a problem other than the legal ones. Chickens will pick out any food that was in the water, I am sure other animals will too.

If you are motivated, you can bathe in surprisingly little water--read up on the tricks from campers, yachters, etc. Some low-flow showerhead work really well, and if you add a shutoff valve so you don't run the water except when you need it you can get clean with a gallon or less of water--and still be presentable and "civilized"
 
Burra Maluca
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S Carreg wrote:
I was thinking about trying some system where I put clothes in a large net bag or box and tie this in the (fast-flowing) water for a day or two - would this get them clean? I might not want to do this for all laundry, but it would be interesting if it worked.


My experiments with this mostly served as a valuable lesson in how much soil is washed away in the stream. My undies acted as a filter and needed more washing after 24 hours than they did at the start. And that was with water that I was quite happy to fill a kettle up from.
 
S Carreg
Posts: 260
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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Ha! Good tip on the clothes. I think I will still try it as an experiment, but maybe just a few items. We do not have good drying weather for most of the year it must be said, but we manage without a tumble dryer. If we try to wean ourselves off the spin cycle though I may have to invest in a real mangle...

I should say, we already bathe very sparingly. We have no shower, only a bath, and due to water heating issues (only an electric immersion heater at present and for the foreseeable, not counting pan-of-water-on-the-stove). We don't bathe daily - the children about once a week, the adults 2-3 times per week. We tend to use a shallow 'sitz' bath so water use is already as minimal as is practical, I think.

And the other really huge issue that I should have mentioned is that our house is in a depression - even the vegetable garden and lawn area is up a flight of stone steps - the house is immediately surrounded on ground level by a patio, a concrete slab parking area, and gravel around the rest. to get the drainage out to the septic the pipes are DEEP under the lawn area - around 2-2.5 meters deep. So while my preference would be to just disconnect the baths and washing machine from the system and switch to grey-watering the garden, I don't see how this is feasible without huge excavation, effort, and expense. So it does look as though we're stuck with the septic system for the foreseeable future, which is why I'm trying to come up with some creative think-arounds.

There is a drain at the front of the house into which most of the gutters drain as well as one sink (weird old house), this goes to a pipe that runs under the road and presumably into the river or into a 'soak away' drainage area near the river. I have confidence that this would in theory handle the volume of grey water we produce however this is in full view of the road and therefore not an option as it would undoubtedly get us into big big trouble.
 
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