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Grey water in northern climates  RSS feed

 
Posts: 15
Location: NB, Canada
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I love the idea of a grey water system but I wonder what happens in winter in Canada? The reed bed would die down, water going outside would freeze and eventually back up the plumbing. What do others up North do? Is it simply a matter of only using the system in warm months? Do you bypass to a sewage system the rest of the year or have a large tank in the basement to save the grey water for warmer weather?

I’m very interested in adding a system but if I could only use it half the year I’m not sure if it’s worth it. I’d love to hear others solutions.

Also in Canada do we spell it gray water?🤪
 
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Posts: 236
Location: Ireland
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Hi Rob, they have wetlands in North Dakota, which is in a more northerly climate than NB, Canada - according to the zone maps anyway:
https://permies.com/wiki/88761/Permaculture-Guide-Reed-Beds-Feidhlim

Feidhlim Harty wrote:With regards to cold weather, I know that there is a constructed wetland system in Minot, North Dakota, performance of which "…declines with lower water temperatures, but has performed very well for normal wastewater discharge parameters" Hammer DA and DL Burckhard (2002) Low temperature effects on pollutant removals at Minot's wetland. In:Mander,U and P.Jenssen (2002) Natural Wetlands for Wastewater Treatment in Cold Climates. WIT Press, Billerica, MA, USA.  



I'm not sure what adaptations they make to cater for the cold, but one of the authors of the Minot Wetland ND, was DL Burckhard of the Water and Wastewater Department, City of Minot, ND, USA if you want to try to contact that office. One adaptation that they seem to have made, based on the sizing data, is to double the system size based on standard figures (up from 30m2/person to 60m2/person for tertiary treated effluent) - presumably that's to allow the system to flood/freeze during the winter and still provide good treatment in the summer months as it thaws again.

For grey water in such northern climes you may be as well to route the water to an infiltration trench planted with willows rather than a reed bed per se; unless you have plenty space to build it a bit larger than usual.

Feel free to bounce some ideas back and forth if you wish. :-)
 
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Posts: 2347
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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I'm personally thinking to have a multi stage winter gray water system in my house (not yet built), greenhouse, and then into a swale.  Zone 3, 53N latitude.

The idea is to also moisturize the house which is dry from being heated by wood.

The initial deposit will be just South of the kitchen down a few steps in the solarium, and fall against large stones to dissipate heat and thus protect the compost worms from that one extremity.  

Behind and around the rocks will be course carbon rich mulch and biochar.  These will enable any smells to find a cushy home that is not in the air, and a place for compost worms to zoom in and out of when deposits are not being made.  

Around the stones, but raised up slightly from the dumping level will be heavy feeding plants, like comfrey, that will send roots down to the round rock and gravel zone at the base to gain water and nutrients.  In house composting of some kitchen waste will happen at the comfrey zone, as well as below the counter in a worm bin.

The next stage of the filtration will be lower and involve cattails in the center, with soil beds on the side.  The soil will absorbing extra water that will have mint, yarrow and horsetails, as well as probably others that love moist soils... maybe rhubarb and strawberries.

The cattails and comfrey and some rhubarb will be chopped a few times a year and be added to the initial hot stone drop zone with biochar.  

All the water then sub irrigates a bed that feeds leafy greens.  Any excess that has moved through the system will go to a greenhouse (insulated on all sides but South) downslope of the house, where it will go through a similar but larger process. (i'm not sure how large, but it is intended that this area not be heated and it get's pretty cold here.  This is a place where seedlings can be grown as well in the early spring.  The effluent from this will go beneath a deeply mulched swale that contains willows, which will be coppiced for rocket fuel, bio char, or shredder mulch on the garden, and spruces, which would be also be coppiced heavily to reduce it's height/shading and gain easy access for harvesting spruce tips for tea.  The spruce, unlike the willows, as a short dormant period only when it is excessively cold.

In summer the gray water can go straight from the comfrey zone to the willow swale, as the solarium systems will not get a lot of light for the plants to process tons of water, and excess moisture in the house is not as welcome (and will in fact hopefully be absorbed by succulents like aloe.  The beds will only be slightly watered enough to keep the plants happy.  

How does that sound?  

Ideas?  Improvements?    

 
Feidhlim Harty
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Posts: 236
Location: Ireland
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Hi Roberto,

I'd just posted something on another thread about not really wanting to devote the finances and carbon footprint to housing a reed bed inside the house - but what you've outlined may change my mind. Basically you're getting multiple uses from your indoor grey water filter, which may well justify the additional roof and wall space devoted to housing it.

I've nothing to add to the design, other than a request for photos in this thread when you're done :-)

Here in Ireland the prospect of having a source of moisture in the house is such a misnomer. We're already pretty well blessed with moisture most of the time, so it's not something that would be a big request for me in my reed bed design work.

Anyway, I hope the project goes well and look forward to the updates.

all the best

Féidhlim  
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Posts: 2347
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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Hi Feidhlim:  Thanks for your response.  Yes, I agree with the idea that one has to balance the need for making a living greywater filter indoors, and the materials cost of building such an extra space.

I'd just posted something on another thread about not really wanting to devote the finances and carbon footprint to housing a reed bed inside the house - but what you've outlined may change my mind. Basically you're getting multiple uses from your indoor grey water filter, which may well justify the additional roof and wall space devoted to housing it.  



I figured that the only way to actually have grey water filtration with active plants in a place that gets severe winters is to do it primarily in a heated part of the house, or in a heated greenhouse.  The solarium, in my mind, is the key to this design.  After I wrote that last post I was thinking that my main greenhouse (which is also downslope) could have sub irrigated beds, and thus eliminated the greywater solarium downslope that I mentioned.  The problem is more of either insulating the pipe adequately or burying it deeply enough that it can not freeze.  Either is doable considering the present idea for the house and greenhouse sites.  

Where I live it gets cold enough that it is quite dry for a good part of the winter.  The combination of that, and heating the space/keeping the relatively extreme cold outside, means that the interior space is quite also dry in the winter.  This gives me incentive for considering this idea as an option.  The other reason is that I think it is good to be able to show a working example of this idea.  I know that Earthships have a similar idea in them, but the majority of them are also in sunny locations and their systems have year round growing with sloped glass for year round growing.  My house's solarium will have vertical glass and an overhang on the roof so that summer sun is not heating the space.  Because moisture is not really needed or wanted in the summer, I think that having a lot of aloe and other succulents in the solarium (and elsewhere where there is adequate light [they don't seem to need direct sun] in the house), will aid in drawing the moisture out of the air in the summer.      

At this point, nothing has been built.  I'm nearing the tipping point between the brainstorming/gathering materials phase and the deep design/get-her-done phase.

Yesterday I just paid the last deposit on my land mortgage! !!   I can now focus much more on the idea of expending finances on infrastructure, but there are also a lot of projects that may take precedent over building this part of the system.  

That last part said, I think that I could comfortably live in the solarium/grey water treatment facility, while building the rest of the house.  Much to ponder as this summer progresses :)
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Posts: 236
Location: Ireland
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Congrats Roberto on moving out of debt! A day to celebrate.

Vis a vis water - I'd question how much Aloe will remove moisture from the air. My guess is that the net water movement will be out of the leaves and into the air if anything. The smooth waxy leaves are designed to minimise water loss rather than facilitate water uptake. Certainly the shape of the Aloe plant is probably designed to trap mist or fog from the air and channel it to the roots of the plant - but indoors I'm not sure you'll have that degree of moisture. I'm not an expert on Aloe, but that's my guess on it.

Instead, could you install a bypass line so that in summer, you can simply stop splashing the water down onto the indoor wetland area for some or all of the wetter season? Otherwise there may be a risk of excessively high moisture content and consequent damage to the structural integrity of your timberwork. Again, just a guess on my part.

Oh, you may want to have a look at John Todd's Eco Machines: https://www.oceanarksint.org/portfolio/eco-machines/  and Tom Worrell's Living Machines: http://livingmachines.com/Home.aspx

I look forward to the photos.

Féidhlim
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Posts: 2347
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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Thanks Fiedhlim.

Certainly the shape of the Aloe plant is probably designed to trap mist or fog from the air and channel it to the roots of the plant.

That was my thinking on it, but as you said it might not be the case that the moisture in the air is significant enough to provide for the aloe.  I got the idea from a friend who had an aloe sitting on the window sill above the toilet in a Victorian house at a rural location in the suburbs of Vancouver Canada (the climate is a lot more humid there to begin with, also).  The plant was thriving and she said she never watered it.  The air was misted by the shower and bath, however, and this may be enough to provide for it's health.

could you install a bypass line so that in summer, you can simply stop splashing the water down onto the indoor wetland area for some or all of the wetter season?

 Certainly.  I was thinking to have it drop into the comfrey first before bypassing outdoors, but there is no reason why it couldn't bypass that zone as well, and then I would simply need to water the comfrey just enough to keep it happy as someone would a house plant.

Thanks for the links.  I had been to the living machine site before, but not to the eco machines.  Although I've seen living machine information on T.V., I have not been able to really get the gist of his technology as it seems a bit secretive and propitiatory/copywriten.   I like the eco machine, with all of it's aquatic features.   It reminds me of reading Mollison who wrote of having snails keep his cistern clean.  I had often envisioned clams and snails for this purpose, and later on as my ideas progressed also incorporating things like algae and aquatic plants.  I'm not sure about having fish and such in this system of mine.  Very intriguing to consider though.  Maybe mollies or guppies and some similar sized catfish?  

I was thinking to collect both water, pond algae, and sediments from various natural ponds in my local area to inoculate the system with biotics.  These will likely include some small mollusk species and numerous smaller invertebrates.

I have the great fortune of having a slope and a good sized piece of property, so I can provide a gravity feed system of any size that financial restraints and time for building allow, so this gives the blessing of not having to use any pumps.

I'm not sure what to encase the system in yet.  Plastic seems to be the cheapest, fastest and probably most available option, but I have an inherent dislike for it... Concrete might also be possible, I guess, as is the more expensive stainless steel.  Do you have other suggestions on waterproofing and creating the catchments for this system?
 
Roberto pokachinni
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From what I saw in the Living Machine animation and guessed at already from the 'tidal flow' that is mentioned in the text describing this model is that the growing medium (plant ecology) systems are drained and filled, and I understand that this is a bi-hourly process where the tanks are filled for a full hour and drained for the same.  What I really like about this is that this would create a super oxygenation of the then semi aquatic intertidal biofilm (microbial) zone on the below soil gravels, as well as pump air throughout the soil system via the vacuum effect that was caused as the water descended.  This, in my thinking, would lead me to think that the system does live up to the idea that it is more efficient than is commonly found in natural wetlands.  

I do not plan to have much technology in my system.  

Simply a flow of liquid from one height descending to another.  

My own ideas would still incorporate the gravel biofilm matrix at the base (and this will be sitting on  round rock cobbles for ease of water flow), but this would be layered upwards with course charcoal (which would also become biofilm rich) on top (to keep the finer materials above as well as soils in place, followed by sand and fine charcoal and then soil with deep rooted plants like comfrey.  My thinking is that the deeper rooted perennial plants will reach their roots down into the coarse sand and fine charcoal where the top of the water will reach, and will pump the nutrient rich water up into the soil system, while earthworms and compost worms would oxygenate the system in this first stage.

In the second stage the center would be more of a sand/mud based soil system that is shallower, and full of cattails, but has deeper soils (similarly layered to stage one) as raised banks on the outside of this stage's tank filled with moisture loving plants.  This stage would have water come up closer to the surface of the cattail sand/mud soils.  

The next stage or stages, would have the shallower (thinner) layered systems beds be full of shallower rooted plants(salad plants and herbs for winter dining) and the water level would sub irrigate the soil just enough to moisten their feeder root zone by osmosis/capillary action.  These last plants would have to be transplanted at a stage where the roots were developed deeply enough that they could access the moistened level.      
 
Roberto pokachinni
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So I found a living machine system on you tube.  It doesn't have the tidal flow, and may not be a true trademarked living machine but it has similar elements to the one on the living machine site's animation.  It may be an earlier model then the one on the official site.


I remember reading in Anna Eddy's book, Solviva, that she had her toilets flush straight into a worm bin.  That's where I got the idea to do it that way, but I'm thinking of 'dry' composting toilets for that, and the worm bins for gray water.  As such, I figure that I would build my system without the anaerobic stage that the guy in the youtube video has in the system he maintains.  I figured that I would go also with a soil based system, right away, so that ground based plants are taking in the raw nutrients as soon as possible.  The guy featured in the video also has a lot of fully aquatic ecosystems in his machine, which at this point I have not planned to have.  There is a lot of good information on the plaques that are available to the public to read in this greenhouse, which is at a roadside rest area in Vermont.  I was able to read most of it when I went to full screen, but some of it was blurry.  A better computer might be able to get a clearer image and so a person might be able to read more.  A lesser computer might make it unreadable.  
 
Posts: 15
Location: East Scotch Settlement, New Brunswick
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Rob Clinch wrote:I love the idea of a grey water system but I wonder what happens in winter in Canada? The reed bed would die down, water going outside would freeze and eventually back up the plumbing. What do others up North do? Is it simply a matter of only using the system in warm months? Do you bypass to a sewage system the rest of the year or have a large tank in the basement to save the grey water for warmer weather?

I’m very interested in adding a system but if I could only use it half the year I’m not sure if it’s worth it. I’d love to hear others solutions.

Also in Canada do we spell it gray water?🤪



Hi Rob...I see you are in NB. We live in NB as well and this is our fist winter living at the camp and working out the challenges of graywater in the winter. First off, we are hooked into the grid and have water from our well pumped to our kitchen sink (YAY). We have no hot water tank, so no hot water, only cold. But we have a stove to heat water....so no biggie. We humanure compost our waste, so no water usage there. No bath or shower or laundry...so the only graywater we have is from the kitchen sink. Sounds easy, eh? And it was until a month ago with that first arctic plunge and the graywater pipe FROM our kitchen sink froze. The previous owners ran the exit pipe under the camp, so the line is not buried. We banked the exit point with spruce boughs in hopes that it would be enough to keep the line open...but nope. So I wash in a bowl and toss the water. We want to re-do the kitchen sink drainage this coming summer and I am looking for cold weather drainage ideas with the idea of keeping it simple. The kicker in all this is that we live, basically, on rock. We live right beside an old quarry and there is very little topsoil on top of the rock underneath us....so burying any line of drainage line is going to be a challenge.

So, how are you doing so far this winter.....it's been colder than normal!!! Any ideas (from anyone!!) about draining water in arctic cold would be appreciated
 
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You might want to look at "constructed wetlands" https://www.researchgate.net/publication/256525012_Cold-climate_constructed_wetlands I've seen a system used in Pagosas Springs and it gets a bit frosty there.
 
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