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Humanure vs my reality and codes

 
steward & bricolagier
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Rufus Laggren wrote: You have taken on a big job. And it sounds like you're pretty much on top of it, at least as possible at this stage.


Yeah, it is, and I didn't come into this wanting to be the GC, but too many problematic contractors made me decide if we want what we want, I'm gonna have to do it. And I fought it, GC isn't my best skill set. Part of what pushed me over was when I was totally fed up, looked to see what qualifications these people had to call themselves contractors. There's no test here at all, $25.00 fee. Explains a lot of what I am seeing. Stuff like a house that passed codes, about 6 months after construction, it rained hard, and the attached deck (about 7 feet off the ground) peeled off the house and tipped over. Wasn't on good foundations (the X connect deck blocks aren't solid enough for that kind of force, the dirt wasn't compacted under them either) or anchored to the house right. It's not hard to do better than that :P

Far as I can see, your approach and all that is great, especially viz maintaining a good civil working relationship with your AHJ. You can definitely press on various issues and disagree with particular things, but the civil and respectful (both sides) relationship is what will carry the day.

I hope so, I'm a friendly bouncy thing, sometimes I feel like a puppy that bounces up to people wagging it's tail. Getting basically kicked in the face by the first codes guy was traumatic, I had nightmares and threw up for months after it, and knew I didn't have money to move again, I'm out of options, I'm in town whether I like it or not.

I can see only one general point to emphasize: It's a LOT of work and thus try to plan and schedule the project(s) such that parts can be delayed for later w/out serious downsides. Give yourself as many options for this as possible. I have always reached points where I needed to drop or postpone certain aspects and it helps a lot when it's happens gracefully. And without undue guilt or panic - because you have already thought about that possibility.

I have serious health issues, I have lived that way since 1996. I always know where my next stop point, next thing that is optional, etc is. Too often I have to use those options.

You have lots more wiggle room if you can leave walls open indefinitely, but that's quite a QofA impact if it's space you use every day. But putting up the finish wall doesn't mean you have to install all the appliances right away - or ever. Paint can be done later, so can finish floors.

Water and electrical and shelter (building envelope) infrastructure usually need priority. Sometimes access (driveway, walkways...). For example, drying in the garage with a light and an operating door opener might be critical for some people, while of no matter to others.

The fun thing about the panels, (I know, they are NOT natural building) is the time from start to dry in with them is FAST. I'll be running an inexperienced crew, once the foundation and basement are in, an experienced one could get my place up within 3-4 days. We'll probably take a week and a half. To dry in!! Which gives me work space at that point. The basement work will take longer, it's got a lot of details, and they all have to be done before the walls are ready to go up.  

These planning tricks are most helpful not for saving money but for saving your energy and good mindset. A billions details everyday tends to get to you. Simplify, lay off and put off, to avoid getting bogged down. You will _not_ run out of vitally critical issues needing your full attention, I promise you. Flexible scheduling, compromise, all that stuff is designed to buy you daily personal time to apply serious thought and effort at points where _no one_ but you yourself has the knowledge, skills, authority to get the job done.

Yes, that's the hard part for me, I'm a "I'll just do that myself" type, and figuring out what others can do, and do to my requirements, is a skill I work at, it doesn't come natural to me.

As a final thought, I have found that a contractor or worker who does What they say, When the said, How they said and for approximate the $$ they said ---- they are worth whatever they charge. Easily. At least when you want to actually complete a satisfactory job _this_ lifetime. That's because the cost of a no-show or a person who doesn't do as agreed dominoes over the whole process and become HUGE. For example, an experienced laborer (say a ditch digger/gardener/painter type) who actually pays attention to your needs, talks about the job and works hard to your instruction w/out supervision is probably worth $20/hr cash or even more. Provided you schedule work to keep them busy.

OH GOD YES!! That's a major issue I'm hitting. The labor pool around here is weird, the good workers have jobs, I don't want  the bad ones. My best employees lately have been high school girls  :) They do what they are told, and show up, and don't try to play dominance games with me. I tell people I can teach the skills I need, I can't teach how to have a good attitude and be willing to learn.

A job desk or office at the site can help, even if you must provision it from your briefcase every day. Proximity, table, chairs out of rain and wind can help. A tall tent?

Have one made, out of an outside paddock off the barn. also have a good tent, and multiple canopy things. The paddock has a desk in it, white board on the wall, etc.  

Breath slowly, count to 10.  Watch Game of Thrones (or something) occasionally. <G>
Cheers,
Rufus

 
I hide from the world on Permies :D And do stuff like sing while I run the tractor, and make up dumb songs about everything. I'm trying to not let it all get to me. It IS a big bite, but you haven't seen some of the projects I have done in the past, this is biggest and scariest, but the complex logistics and a multitude of balls in the air is very familiar territory to me. My health stuff limits my body, but not my mind, and I use my mind to make it so my body can do what I need done. My previous businesses I have owned involved a lot of flow of work analysis, and good ergonomic body mechanics, I am good at optimizing movement, tasks, scheduling, and pacing my energy and resources. So some of this IS my best skills, the hoop jumping for other people's goals is not one of them, but I'm trying hard to do it well. I don't tend to pass tests with a D, I really don't. I put a lot of thought into not doing so.

Thank you for your reply!!
:D
 
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Pearl, I second and third the worm box for black water.  We've had other discussions on this forum with information.  My setup is working wonderfully with native earth worms.  There is no smell unless I stick my head very close to what they are working on.  It took a few months to get lots of worms, but it happened pretty fast, and now there are hundreds of them, working in gangs of 20 and 30 on brand new deposits.  Paper and all.

A couple of points:

1.  Worms can drown if it backs up, they can freeze, and they can bake in the sun, so putting the tank underground maybe halfway, or putting rigid, 2" thick insulation on all sides with a box cover over the whole thing....something that allows you full access to the interior from the top lets you check on things with easy access until you learn how it works for a full year.

2.  I based my system on the photo that Bengi posted, but did not use that tiny little outflow tube in the lower left-hand corner, because the finished worm compost is being floated down the pipe, and that will plug up really fast and could drown the worms.  I've attached an illustration of my 52 gallon box (for 2 people), using a minimum of 2" outflow pipe, which seems to be working well after 8 months.

3. I had a bucketful of bark chips, but I don't think they are crucial.  The worms are so ecstatic about where they are, they could care less about the bark chips.  They are aerating things just fine.

4. I would NOT suggest a lagoon.  It's black water, after all, and compost.  Planting landscape shrubs and a couple trees to shade them, would handle the water from a household of 2.

5. I rerouted the washing machine water around the worm box, because if 4 loads happen in a day that seems like a lot of water that might cause problems, like too much going down the pipe at a time, or causing a backup because the worms haven't had a chance to break things down enough to send fine, finished bits down the pipe.

6.  I lined the box, 2 sides and the back, with native soil so the worms would have a place to go they recognized until they got used to their new surroundings.  The soil under the input pipe has been untouched, at least from the top.  It's there in case they need to get away from a water backup, but so far that hasn't happened.

7.  The gabion wall, 3 layers of chicken wire wrapped around 1 1/2" rock, lines the wall of the outflow pipe, allowing water to escape, and very fine particles of finished compost, but not chunks, and it has not clogged up and caused a backup.  It's removeable in case there is a backup or the line needs to be cleared.  So far that hasn't happened.  While it might have creepy stuff on it eventually, placing it in a container of water, if it has to be removed, will clean it sufficiently, then just put it back.

8.  Water from the flush toilet starts the breakdown process more than I realized, and is a very good thing.  But the worms are working daily on whatever is in there.  95% of the contents of the box is unrecognizable, even the paper.

9.  Substances going down the pipe to the box, Comet, shampoo, biodegradable dish soap, occasionally deoderant soap doesn't bother them at all.  I am reluctant to put Listerine down there, but from the article at Sol Viva, where the woman who had this system working well, says she tried to trash it with all kinds of household things, and the worms did just fine.  But I wouldn't want to go that far!

10.  This, of course, isn't to code, but friends of ours in Canada have a remote cabin, and it's standard proceedure to use worms for septic pits.  The worms go underground during the frozen winter, then come back up when things thaw.

11.  This whole setup is on a slope so that gravity takes it all the way down, so a minimum slope of pipe that the code says, even if the area doesn't have a slope.  There's usually a grade or a percentage mentioned.

Other threads at this site will have more details....
WormTankBasic.jpg
[Thumbnail for WormTankBasic.jpg]
 
Pearl Sutton
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Cristo Balete: Thank you for a well written response! That is actually what I have been planning for a year or more, and trying to figure out how to justify it to codes. When I read the current version of the Humanure book, I realized that system might be easier to get codes to approve of, so that may be my better option. I am looking for information in the building codes to figure how to word either system to the local inspector. The information about pathogen removal in the Humanure book makes me think a composting system is more likely to pass.

And I don't like the lagoon much either. It is already there, and is legal though. I KNOW poop can be dealt with more effectively than that, just a matter of what I can get approved.  

I'm working my way through multiple versions of building codes, and it makes my brain itch :P  I'll report back when I get it straight what I have learned.
 
Cristo Balete
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Pearl, I'm pretty sure they will never approve this.  Better to wait until it's all done, then install what you want.  

A real to-code septic tank or a connection to the existing sewer system is important for the validity and value of a house.  I doubt they'd let you occupy a house without the real thing.   It would be close to impossible to sell without it, and all of these infrastructure-type systems get more and more expensive as time goes on.  Better to get the minimum in place now, then use it or not.

If you use worms there won't be any raw sewage going to the lagoon, only worm compost.  That might cause algae growth on the lagoon, however, which can be a pain to take care of.  If you can plant trees/shrubs between the lagoon and the outflow of the worm tank, they would suck up the nitrogen and keep the lagoon cleaner.  

:-)
 
Cristo Balete
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Pearl, if the lagoon is already there, there's a lot of ground water there?  Have you had a perk test for the septic tank?  That is crucial, and if the water stays in the ground, there will have to be another location for the septic tank where any water placed into the soil disappears within the required time.
 
Pearl Sutton
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Cristo: we may be using the words differently. The "sewer lagoons" here are just an excavated hole in the ground, no cover. I haven't hit them in the codes yet, I have seen cesspits, which is just a hole with a cover. Not sure what the proper terminology for these might be.  So the water that's in the lagoon is runoff (which I'm planning to fix, currently the slope drains a lot of rain runoff right into it, causing it to overflow. TOTALLY not a good thing!) Have not done a perc test here, the septic systems in this area struggle due to bad soil perc. Part of why they approve the lagoons.

Whatever I end up doing, I'll run ONLY the blackwater from the toilets to it, and the rest into seepage lines that go to soil improvement areas full of wood chip etc, and will be planted once it's broken down enough. I don't have the drawings for that available right now, but imagine a trench, with fist sized rocks, then smaller ones layered up, then dirt, that hooks to same depth trenches that come off of it like fingers, each filled with chips and mulch, then dirt. So the soil there will be starting the microbe and worm process to spread to the areas in between the fingers, which will improve the soil perc quite a lot. If I have to go with a septic tank, it'll be hooked into that, so the effluent has someplace to go. The neighboring septic tanks hook to drilled pipes that they then cover with clay subsoil, no surprise they do not drain well, and flood out easily. (And the drilled pipes are drilled on top too, so that nice fine clay soil fills the pipes up quickly, as the flow out of them, being impeded by clay soil, is so slow the pipes wont run clear. This is all such bad design, and SO easy to do more effectively!)
 
Cristo Balete
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About the humanure approach, it's a whole 'nother way to do this, and having had composting toilets for 20+ years, there are more downsides to composting raw sewage outside.  I doubt that any codes involve the humanure approach.

Just so we are distinguishing, and you probably already know this, but for anyone who is interested, here are at least two types:

1.  The Bucket system...

The humanure book talks about filling a container that is not specialized, then taking the contents out and composting it in the open air.  That's the Bucket System.  There are other threads here about the pros and cons of that, but among my top 4 cons are flies/gnats in summer, a constant supply of sawdust of weeds inside that takes up a lot of room, an outdoor pile that animals/rodents can get into even if it is walled off with chicken wire or wooden walls, the paper just bugs me, I don't want to see it again or have it dry out and get blown around.  

Just like all composting piles, the ones that work the fastest require turning, because the center cools off and needs to be redistributed.  If it isn't turned, then it will take a long, long time to become reasonably composted, but that won't happen if it keeps getting added to.  So there needs to be two piles, one working, one finishing.  Do we really want to commit that much space to raw sewage tending?

2.  Self-contained composting toilet.

This type of very expensive toilet has a tank in the lower half of it that is supposed to be a working compost pile, but it's quite small, and doesn't get that hot the way a bigger pile does.  I bought one that didn't work at all, had "rakes" on the bottom that never moved, and wouldn't turn the contents if there were an earthquake and the thing dumped upside down!  But they had a very convincing website and I did't know much about them at the time.  

There is a overflow tube for liquid overflow that is quite small and gets plugged.  That tube needs a special collecting area outside the building.  Most instructions show a cesspit lined with rocks, but that's not to code, and it has to be moved around outside the foundation of the house as it saturates the soil.  That's not a great place to have a build-up of urine/black water.  If some type of container were positioned there, who wants to keep track of when that is full and empty it somewhere where kids/pets/wild animals won't get into it?  It's just not stuff anyone wants to deal with.

I do know of some folks in very remote locations who have convinced local authorities that their composting toiliet works, and they've been allowed to keep it, but that's usually when they have occupied an old house that had a cesspit that needed to be updated and they couldn't afford a septic tank.  It's not the norm.
----

Worms are getting a better and better reputation for handling blackwater, but you woud really be heading into an uphill battle.   You might not want to get on the county or city's radar that you intend to do something there that isn't to code regarding raw sewage.   Satellites these days have changed what those organizations can watch from the sky, and they don't hesitate to keep an eye on us.
 
Cristo Balete
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Pearl, I'm guessing that the drill pipes you are mentioning are leach lines that let the water flow away from the main line and allow the water to sink in without filling up a septic tank.  That is usually done in slow-perk locations.   Those tend to be under a gravel driveway so there's easy access and they don't take up gardening space.

Seems like trees that need a lot of water will work really well in your lagoon area.  Not sure of your zone, but big trees with deep roots.  Pine roots are too shallow and eventually they tend to fall over without warning.  We are just going through this, at the 30-year age of these pines, and it's not only nerve wracking, but it's expensive to have them removed.  They will send roots into those drilled pipes.    On the west coast they use eucalyptus trees to suck up water because they are fast growing in wet situations.  There are probably common trees like that there you could plant.

There is a type of polyester stretchy fabric that goes over those drill pipes that keep roots out.  It's pretty standard stuff, and is not expensive.

Also, if you need/want to get a loan on the property, banks won't lend on a property unless all of the infrastructure is okay with the authorities.  Even if you don't intend to, you should have that option just in case.
 
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I've read most of this thread.  I love the ideas presented.  

Things that keep rattling around in my head that need to come out will do so in this post.

My dad worked as a water tech for the city of Terrace in Northern B.C. (population 15-20,000).  The blackwater was piped to a series of lagoons that had aeration machines floating in them.  The effluent went straight to the river after the ponds.  Oxygen is extremely important in any system involving such waste in open water.  The lack of such aeration is the predominant reason why small scale septic lagoons are smelly and potentially dangerous.  It always shocks me to hear that such systems have approval while composting systems or systems with proper reed beds are given the X. Reed bed systems and many other aquatic plant systems, provide oxygenation on their roots.  Cattails and bullrushes are particularly good at this.

As far as composting goes... (Full discloser: I have not read the humanure book.  I have used systems designed from it, though.  And I will get his book).  The thing that I'm trying to wrap my brain around in that regard is the 'hot' part.  I've done a lot of composting, and I have a pretty solid foundation of what really works and why.  Composting always has some kind of thermophilic (heat-loving/heat-producing) bacteria, and so it is always warmed to a degree (particularly in the center of the pile), but to ensure that all waste is heated enough to kill all pathogens, compost must be turned.  This not only adds the necessary oxygen to promote the proper bacterial communities, but it also places materials from the outer, cooler parts of the pile into the center.  It also ensures that the composting material have the right amount of moisture as the outer parts tend to be a lot drier and the bottom parts tend to be too wet for the choice bacteria.  A compost that is simply layered, or added to, can not generate the sort of heat necessary to ensure the elimination of pathogens throughout the entire pile (it can't even ensure the killing of weed seeds). That's my two cents on that part, for what it's worth.  I'm not saying that Jenkins system doesn't work to create a relatively safe way to process human waste, and one that is superior by far than mass processing black water, but that I have doubts about it's fool proofness.  I should read the book.

That all said, Jenkins is apparently The Man, so following his guidelines should be sufficient.  He has managed to convince a lot of people (including some inspectors) of his effective system.  Yay team Jenkins!  I'm all for it if he can prove it kills pathogenic bacteria. I just have my doubts that everyone can pull that off without turning the pile a few times, or leaving it a long time in multiple bins.  

As far as Anna Eddy's design...  I am a huge fan of using worms to do the work.  And I particularly really like the idea of using multiple bins so that the worms can do a thorough job (because they don't like too much water).  So the black water goes to a manifold, which is easy to switch.  One bin, full of carbon material and worms gets added to for say a year, and then it is switched to another carbon bin.  Add worms, and maybe some innoculate from the compost/forest/previously finished bin, start again.  By the time you get to the third bin being fully filled you can be pretty sure the worms have completed the process in the first.  Worms are great aerators and consider it their duty to process uncomposted waste into compost.  I don't know how good they are at eliminating pathogens.  So there's that.  

The partially processed black water exiting the 3 bins would come to a second manifold (with no switch) back to a single line that goes to the reed bed.  Problem with reed beds, in my climate, and it seems even in yours, is that they can freeze and the plants go dormant in the winter.  The willows around your lagoon, for instance, will be dormant in the winter.  No leaves: Dormant.   Anna Eddy had hers piped straight under spruce trees I think.  Evergreen trees like this do not go one hundred percent dormant in the winter, and will draw on nutrients, flourishing on the warmer liquid food source.  So in her case the 'reed bed' is a spruce tree.  There is the possibility of adding a greenhouse structure, as mentioned by some.  Good idea.  And so a reed bed then becomes a potential year round solution.  

I'm planning to run my grey water through a worm system and reed bed/grow box in the solarium which will be the southside of my house, since it gets so freaking cold here.  The reed beds will have cattails in the gravel and on the outside, in the dirt, comfrey.  My bodily waste will be composted in a mix of comfrey and cattail, and also fed to comfrey in a contained area.  The comfrey and cattails will be chopped, dried and processed in order to generate carbon matterial for the composting system of the manure, closing the loop.  The water will exit the system to feed a hugulkulture and buried wood pit circle of hedged spruces, downslope.  In my mind, time, if not heat, will be the ultimate enemy of pathogens.

I just have to add that having drain fields and any water pipes under a road is a bad idea in a really cold location.  A road is plowed of insulating snow, and as such will have far greater penetration of freezing temperatures.  Once the frost penetrates into a system it will destroy it, or in the very least shut it down for the season.

Keep in mind that net rooted trees like willows are pretty ideal for lagoons/dams as they are stabilizers.  Running bamboo is also very effective.  Tap rooted trees can penetrate and compromise dam walls, so bear this in mind when you are planting trees to suck up liquids.  

I think I've got all the crazy bits out of my head now.    
 
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Have you considered Jenkin's suggestion to not add human waste to water? Is there anyway you could set up a 2bin compost system under a "toilet" area in your house, that you could slowly fill over time, having someone empty the bin that has been sitting for a year, only when it is finished compost?  You may want to consider methods for diverting some of your urine from such a system. That can be solved more easily (I'm coming to really appreciate my yogurt container for simple transfer.. ).
 
Pearl Sutton
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Terri: welcome to Permies!
There is almost never any "someone" to do anything for me. So nothing that has to be moved out of the house. Odds are too high it will never get done. And I doubt codes will pass that.
Appreciate your input :D

 
pollinator
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Pearl

> septic system

I"m with Cristo: Put it in. That will save your bacon in many many ways. It's potentially expensive and the leach field requires dedicated real estate. But nevertheless there are just too many axes waiting to fall w/out your inspector's full and quick approval of that system. If you just say "yes, yes, yes, of course, now I see, consider it done, do come by next week and see..." you will have surmounted  _the_ most troublesome part of your sign-off, gained breathing space and hopefully some wiggle room with the inspector and avoided the potential requirement of connecting to the city.

The wiggle room from crossing the tees etc with the conventional system and giving the inspector the relief that _this_ he understands and by gosh it's Done Just Right, can be huge because you may gain the leeway to gently arrange the location and layout of the conventional septic system to better suit your site plans and future enhancements.

The conventional septic system, as I understand it (it's not something I'm directly experienced with) uses a tank followed by a leach field made of X many feet of permeable pipe. That is all. Nothing in that setup prevents you from either preceding it, inserting, or following it with your own additional processing systems. The exact location (allowing for soil conditions) doesn't really matter, so you potentially have some flexibility in placement. Provided you're on good terms with Gawd (the AHJ).  AFAIK (barring blockage), nothing in a conventional septic system will hurt the functioning of your planned enhancements. Perhaps somebody has detailed knowledge of possible permie systems can comment on that. Consider it an additional level of processing and be happy for it. <g> Depending on your attitude toward the leach field and the physical qualities of effluent from your own system, you can add your permie system before, in the middle, or after the conventional system. Maybe combine it with the leach field?  Maybe not - IRRC, a bug-a-boo with leach fields is root intrusion.

Sounds like you're being too modest on your GC qualifications. The place I have slipped in that regard is getting lazy and not reviewing all work in detail every day - or at least twice a week. As irksome as it is to correct people and call a workman on a deviation, it really must be done and sooner is better. Developing communication skills that work for you so that you get the plan across fully and let people know that that _will_ be the way it's done saves huge amounts of agony. But the GC still must check everything always because there's always people that simply won't do it right (for many and various reasons) along with the normal misunderstandings which it helps to catch early. Really. Until you have worked with particular people for a long time, it's' the only way to keep things in line. One of the really valid reasons contractors stick with a specific set of partners and subs whenever possible.


Cheers,
Rufus
 
Rufus Laggren
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> working high school girls...

You _may_ have tapped the motherload there. <GG> Really wish you good luck because that can be so great in so many ways. Treat them like (young) responsible adults and find ways to truly respect them lead them to some "buy-in" ...  Skies the limit.


Rufus
 
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Hi Pearl

We have used a commercially made composting toilet since the early 80s.  In our present house, we have left the existing system in place.    The composting toilet is an additional option. This takes  a good deal of stress off the existing system.   My wife also has serious health issues.

I do need to mention, that although our primary system would meet any building code, we have no building codes.


 
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Abundance on Dry Land, documentary, streaming
https://permies.com/t/143525/videos/Abundance-Dry-Land-documentary-streaming
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