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What system would you use if there were no restrictions?

 
Zenais Buck
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Location: PNW
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Let' just say...

You were building a new cabin on off-the-grid property in the middle of nowhere. The site gets great sun, is on the mid-slope of a hill (so lots of gravity possibilities). There are no sewer lines for miles, and the goal s to use the black and greywater within permaculture principles.

The only limitations are that it needs to use little to no power (power supplied by solar). The water is plentiful in spring/winter but short supply in summer/fall, so low-flow methods are preferable. There are water storage tanks for summer use.

Since we are discussing the perfect system in a perfect world, let's just say that by some weird loophole there are no government restrictions at play. No inspectors, no permits, nada.

What would your preference be?

I am leaning towards a home-made worm bin, so that there are regular low-flow 'flushing' toilets inside (for guests and elderly) that flush to a worm farm. Has anyone here tried this? I have seen the amazing article that Burra posted a while back, which inspired me greatly ( I will try to find it and link it)

If this system is so lovely, why isn't everyone doing it?

(full disclosure: We currently use an outhouse (composting) but it is not useful for those with accessibility issues. I am really hoping to find a cool, inexpensive, permie way to do an inside, flushing loo!)
 
Jim Gardener
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Location: Acton (north Los Angeles County), CA
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What would be your reason for not just using a composting toilet indoors? Check this out: http://www.redwormcomposting.com/worm-composting/human-waste-vermicomposting/
 
S Andow
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First, we are talking about a system that doesn't hold poo right?
Some state regulations, and counties for that matter, call grey water black water, but there are loop holes in most regulations.

The Federal Goal of the Pollution Control is to --> Not pollute waters and soils, so most Rules are designed for when black water and grey water LEAVE the building. Typically, the county agency has no authority if "waste water" does not leave the building.

First, the compost toilet makes compost. I have had several counties where I live tell me that poo is poo and it doesn't change, even in the warranty type incinerators or composting toilet units. Most people are better educated about their own poo than the county and really, who wants to manage poo when you can manage compost anyway?

So, as for the grey water, check your county building codes to see if they allow for using grey water for watering gardens. IF not, then look up "sand filters" which filter greywater so the only thing leaving the house is....filtered water.

Right now I am in a horn lock with my county as they are telling me a greywater filter is "illegal", which is simply not true and they have yet to produce a building code or Rule to prove that statement.

I prefer the compost toilet and greywater system for a lot of reasons:
1. Cost. A separate system costs around $500 for both the grey water filter and a compost toilet system. A Individual Septic Treatment System will cost around $15,000
2. Space. The ISTS would take about 100' x 45' of my yard, whereas the GW/Compost toilet are in house systems and take up less than 10' of space.
3. A ISTS is wasting my POO! I have been reading The Ringing Cedars and generational gardens are cool.
4. I don't care for the county people who like to bully people so I have less need to deal with them to get permits and increase my taxes.

I am sure there are more reasons I will think of later....
 
Zenais Buck
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Location: PNW
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I posted this in the wrong forum(should this be in the composting toilet, perhaps?); forgive me!

Greywater: the current cabin drains greywater to the front of the cabin, where it is split up into mulched basins. The new cabin will likely use the same system.

Blackwater: The new cabin needs a 'regular' toilet, as it will be used for guests, the elderly (who can't lift a bucket, change out bins, or climb onto a tall toilet). Those folks could possibly also be using meds, who knows? My mother-in-law will not use a bucket, and therefore has not visited us in years. Sometimes we use this to our advantage...

Currently we use both a bucket toilet (Humanure Handbook style) and a composting outhouse. I personally will not poo in my own house or in water. I guess I have lived in the woods too long! What I am looking for in the new cabin is a toilet that looks 'regular' (i.e. normal looking bowl that flushes). What happens with the effluent after the flush is then up to me.

I am leaning towards the worm system described here: http://www.permies.com/t/37192/composting-toilet/Vermicomposting-Flush-Toilet

I am blessed that, due to a weird loophole, no county codes apply to the new cabin. Therefore, I can home make a system that works without incurring the high costs most have to deal with.

I am looking forward to hearing people's thoughts and experiences with this and/or similar alternatives. I am thinking, though, that due to restrictive rules in y'all's counties there may not be any one doing anything like this. I will try to post in the other forum too. Thanks a bunch!
 
William James
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Sorry for the somewhat philosophical point of view here, but...

Why should we desire that there are no restrictions? Restrictions bring out the best design possible, because it forces you to go beyond in terms of creative solutions.
It's like saying "what kind of limbo would you do if the bar was set high enough for you to walk through?" Answer: you wouldn't. If the same question applies do permaculture design, is the answer "you wouldn't design" really acceptable?

Mollison wanted restrictions to be piled onto the design in every way possible because it was a challenge.

The lack of restrictions is nice because you can use the "alternative" solution that is most handy; the one that everyone would choose. You can just follow a known pattern instead of inventing one yourself, one that that works with whatever peculiar conditions you have that are different from everyone else. In the end it could actually lead to a solution that is something that many people would adopt because it goes past whatever stringent conditions you have on your site.

I can understand the weight of bureaucracy, the endless annoyances. But..
Designing in the best of all possible worlds (which is nearly never the case) makes for lazy designers who are only capable of picking the low-hanging fruit.

ps. this is not to say that anyone here is a "lazy designer," it's to encourage us to do better and to be more creatively with what we have.
pps. sometimes the "restrictions" are because of "invisible structures" especially having to do with "who decides." One strategy is to create a design that surpasses that obstacle.

In the case of Grey water/black water - a lot of cities are restrictive and it is at the level of the town or state that things are decided. Unfortunately (or fortunately!) the way to act is either
a) create a system that adopts all the stringent rules but still accomplishes the goal, or allows for the goal to be accomplished should the town or state be absent.
b) change the invisible structure. Bring weight upon the town or state administration to change the law that regulates your design.

Hope this isn't neither here nor there.....
William
 
Zenais Buck
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Location: PNW
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William ~ I agree with you 100%. I remember a favorite art teacher explaining that the best art always comes via obstacles, for the reasons you give above.

In this particular case, I think this paragraph applies:

William James wrote:

The lack of restrictions is nice because you can use the "alternative" solution that is most handy; the one that everyone would choose. You can just follow a known pattern instead of inventing one yourself, one that that works with whatever peculiar conditions you have that are different from everyone else. In the end it could actually lead to a solution that is something that many people would adopt because it goes past whatever stringent conditions you have on your site.



The project in question is not subject to county restrictions, so the playing field is open to try something innovative; the information garnered can then go back into the toolkit for others. The restrictions in the mix are only those inherent in permaculture.

Just to set the record straight: I am not trying to get anything over on the powers that be. I just find myself with an opportunity to try something that others don't have a chance to try. I am hopeful that someone might say "have you heard of this?" and show me something that would work. So far, most systems I see are quite complicated and expensive due to the need to conform to certain rules. I want to see if there is a way I can create a better result than the traditional system, while not going down the traditional pathway.

I hope that makes sense ~ I am not very good at explaining myself on 'paper'.

 
William James
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Paul has a podcast on greywater, it's an interview with Art Ludwig.

From what I can remember, Art had a situation similar to yours. He just started inventing stuff that worked super well, on the cheap. He got so good at it he started working with the state to design better greywater legislation.
I may be getting all that wrong, so take it for what it's worth.

Here are some relavant posts:

http://www.permies.com/t/8318/books/people-Art-Ludwig-Water-Storage

http://dev.podcasts.com/homesteading-and-permaculture-by-paul-wheatonhomesteading-and-permaculture-by-paul-wheaton/episode/art-ludwig-podcast-introduction-announcement

http://www.permies.com/t/43124/books/Create-Oasis-Greywater-Art-Ludwiig

http://www.scubbly.com/store/permaculture/

Another thought on legality in general: one path to freedom if you have the money is to just pay the stupid fines. sepp holzer budgets in an insane amount of money for fines every year just to do what he does. And that is even with a huge amount of strategic maneuvering to work within the confines of the law. If you have that ability it can be something that works.

In Italy that strategy has been so overused by people ruining the earth that they've had to make certain actions criminal offenses just to stop people from doing it, which in some cases makes things hard for people who are doing good work. For instance, you cannot repair holes on country roads unless you pay for licensed and regenerated construction material. Try throwing some of your own broken up and perfectly safe bricks into the hole and you find yourself in front of a judge. The result is that country roads are not maintained and are full of potholes.

Good luck with your projects. You're really lucky not to have to worry about violations.

William
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Location: Ireland
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Zenais, interesting question. You asked what would I do. So I'll answer that directly:

So, I have a gentle slope, the need for an "acceptable" flush toilet, some seasonal water limitations… and no pressure from regulators.

When we lived in West Cork in the south of Ireland, we had a flush toilet with a Swedish Aquatron separator system. This separated the flush water into solid and liquid - routing one to a small septic tank and then to a constructed wetland and then to a wooded percolation area for additional N and P uptake; and routed the solids to a compost system for return to the garden eventually.

Most of the grey water went to the wetland as well. But we had a separate bath line that we routed to a "clean" wetland area. I used this area for growing plants for selling (I design reed beds, and sell wetland plants), and the extra nutrients and warmth increased growth.

That was all done with full planning permission (except possibly the bath line, which could have been called a garden feature and let through anyway)

If I were to do that again, I'd probably route the main grey water line through a comfrey bed after initial settlement so that the N, P and K could be recouped for the garden. This would provide filtration, evapotranspiration and nutrient capture, all separate from the black water set-up.

The Aquatron isn't the cheapest bit of kit in the world - but works really well. Your vermicomposting toilet set-up looks like a good equivalent. That's not something I've got in the book… I see a second edition on the horizon already! Does the vermicomposting system work ok for high volumes, or is it best for occasional use only. I'd be concerned about inundating it with liquid and just creating a big mess. But maybe that's being over-cautious.

William, with regards to your designing through obstacles. My own view on this is that there are plenty restrictions that are already in place:
the social pressure to conform to the flush toilet model
the inherent limitations of working with a material that has the potential to be smelly and contaminating if not managed with due diligence and care
environmental and site conditions
budget and time input limitations for both capital elements and maintenance

If it's possible to design a good permaculture layout within these limitations - I'm not sure that regulatory red-tape would necessarily be an addition to the mix. Certainly, the rules exist for a reason: to prevent water pollution, but if that's taken care of by the designer/builder then I'm for more leeway rather than less.





 
William James
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Feidhlim Harty wrote:
William, with regards to your designing through obstacles. My own view on this is that there are plenty restrictions that are already in place:
the social pressure to conform to the flush toilet model
the inherent limitations of working with a material that has the potential to be smelly and contaminating if not managed with due diligence and care
environmental and site conditions
budget and time input limitations for both capital elements and maintenance

If it's possible to design a good permaculture layout within these limitations - I'm not sure that regulatory red-tape would necessarily be an addition to the mix. Certainly, the rules exist for a reason: to prevent water pollution, but if that's taken care of by the designer/builder then I'm for more leeway rather than less.


You're right with all the restrictions already in place and not needing to amplify that unnecessarily. My point is to not be scared too much of the red tape which usually is just a matter of time and money. Following the red tape gives you the peace of mind that your are bulletproof, something that if achievable is awesome to have. The usual tendency of people is to move forward quickly and see what they can get away with. Sometimes that strategy burns them in the end, not because their system doesn't work ecologically, but because the appropriate bureaucratic considerations weren't fleshed out beforehand and factored in. Oh, that and the bureaucrats weren't paid. They are hungry little critters and you have to throw them a few crumbs from time to time.

William
 
Feidhlim Harty
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There's a sign that we've had to put up on the doors to government buildings here in Ireland after decades of corruption in politics that would read in American English something like this: "Please do not feed the critters inside".

Anyway, to return to your point: I agree 100% that if you're going to put in a sewage system, then it is really important to meet the local legislative requirements. The red tape may be a nuisance, but it's much easier to meet it and deal with it (or to change your plans) than it is to build without permission and then have to remove your house or system afterwards. That said, if you genuinely don't have regulatory limitations, then make sure you don't cause pollution and celebrate the freedom of design that this opportunity brings.
 
Zenais Buck
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Feidhlim Harty wrote:Zenais, interesting question. You asked what would I do. So I'll answer that directly:




Thank you so very much! I am very excited to research this system as it sounds wonderful. I had the same concern with the worm bin: The picture of a soggy mess is not an appealing one. It would be safer to use a "tried and true" on the new cabin, and then perhaps experiment with a worm set-up to be a future replacement for the old cabin...

Again, thank you so much for your gracious reply and invaluable help.
 
Zenais Buck
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Location: PNW
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William James wrote:Paul has a podcast on greywater, it's an interview with Art Ludwig.
....
Good luck with your projects. You're really lucky not to have to worry about violations.

William


William, thank you so much for these links! I have a lot to look at. Your posts have sparked a huge range of thoughts in my head, and I appreciate it!
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Hi Zenais, it's a pleasure to have such an open canvas and all the art materials I'd choose myself! Thank you for your enthusiasm.

You may want to check out http://www.permies.com/t/17877/composting-toilet/Humanure-flushing-toilets-worm-farms before going much further along the path. I have no direct experience of worm composting systems used in Australia, and they look as if they have a lot of potential. My main concern is as per the US models of vermicomposting toilets: If the flow is too high and the sludge too sludgy, will it all just pond on you and clog up. Even with the Aquatron here in Ireland, I had that problem in the compost chamber that I was using. I fixed it - but it was a messy job.

The sales websites are always aglow - which is fair enough. Maybe I need to turn around and write the Permaculture Guide to What Went Wrong! I've lots of experience

I don't want to put you off though. It's tricky to invest in a system you haven't seen so if you have questions let me know.
 
Christopher Baber
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Location: Blue Ridge Mountains, Western North Carolina, Zone 6b
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I've kept this drawing on my computer for years, planning on trying it "one day" when I had some land.

Well, we're about to close on an acre with a small cabin, and room to build another cabin or 2. The current cabin has a 'traditional' septic system, but I was planning on trying the Watson Wick system when we build the next little cabin on the property.

It seems like a great idea, but I'm curious if anyone else has tried it already, and if they have any feedback...

 
Feidhlim Harty
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Hi Christopher, this looks intriguing… I have no experience with the Watson Wick system, but Wendy in Portugal had a not too dissimilar system. Here's the link to the permies forum http://www.permies.com/t/17877/ composting-toilet/Humanure-flushing-toilets-worm-farms and here to her article in Permaculture Magazine: http://www.permaculture.co.uk/readers-solutions/how-make-vermicomposting-flush-toilet

The Oasis Design page gives a good breakdown of some design elements. http://oasisdesign.net/compostingtoilets/watsonwick.htm

Based in Ireland, my main issue would be too much rain, not too little. Also, my availability of pumice would be limited to health shop sized bags and prices, which clearly isn't a possibility. Biochar may be one option; wood chips may be another. These are only some thoughts as somebody who has made plenty mistakes in the area of toilet separation systems - not as an expert in the Watson Wick approach at all.

I look forward to hearing any other feedback you get.
 
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