Outdoors, Green Living, Homesteading, Sustainable living, Green Building

Home Sewage Treatment

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The Survival Pod Cast
Off Grid Net

We have two types..

  • Black Water
  • Gray Water

Black water is of course water with urine and fecal matter in it. However health departments may consider bath water, shower water and bathroom sink water to be black water as well. I’ll list some possible options and then talk about them.

  • Septic Tanks
  • City Sewage System
  • Low Flush Toilets
  • Flushless Urinals
  • Sludge Ponds
  • Composting Toilets
  • Cleavus
  • Incinerating Toilets
  • Solar Toilets
  • Out Houses
  • Chemical Closets (In modern times these are RV toilets or Comercial Portable Potties)

You may want to read as a prerequisite Green? my blog post on the green building trend and green living.

I live in Arkansas and our health department has a PDF which I would like to share. Onsite Waste Water Systems I am sure that other states may have similar documents posted by their health departments. Counties or Parishes may have their own regulations as well. Cities of course will have their own regulations.

In Arkansas if you are in my area, Pope County, you will not be regulated by the county if you have more than 10 acres and are in the county not in city limits. You would still be regulated by the state however. Arkansas state health department amazingly allows composting toilets and suggest two models or brands on their web site. Remember the wonderful outhouses? Well, a composting toilet is an outhouse inside your house! Sounds wonderful huh? This toilet actually vents gasses well, it may also heat to increase aerobic digestion. It does have to be cleaned out manually. The compost may be buried near trees, shrubs and flowering plants, but must be completely buried and not merely sprinkled on top of the ground. You may have to add saw dust, shredded paper, grain straw or grass clippings to the compost to aid in the process. These toilets require no expensive or harsh chemicals at all and require  no water.

Now you might ask why would anyone in their right mind want a composting toilet?
It may be cheaper than septic as a way to start out. It reduces your water demand dramatically because it requires no water for flushing as far as I know. It produces valuable fertilizer. The orientals have been using human waste to fertilize their botanical gardens for 1000’s of years.

Personally I would not have this as the only toilet in my home. I would have a low flush toilet and a flushless urinal for men as well as soon as I could afford the addition. Low flush means it uses a very low volume of water on each flush because it has a better design in the bowl for the ejection and circulation of the water. The first models didn’t really work well and had to be flushed twice or more sometimes defeating the purpose. Pay attention to the design of the toilet you buy and make sure its one that has been properly designed. It may seem odd to have a urinal in a home bathroom for men, but a flushless urinal can greatly reduce the water needed for male urination. They use no water at all. These are widely available now and I see no reason why they should not be used in the home.

A cleavus is a composting system in a multi story home with a basement. The composter is in the basement. A toilet on each floor is nearly directly above the composter. This uses flushing toilets as far as I know.

A sludge pond is a regular symmetrically shaped pond with a liner. On top of the liner you would have so much gravel and so much sand and about a foot or so of water.  Sand could be piled near the surface in areas and grasses could be planted here and there. A duel pond system could be incorporated so that once one pond is full of sludge it could be allowed to dry up. The dry sludge could then actually be take to a city sewage plant where they may add it to landfill compost. Or it could be converted into methane and fertilizer. The fertilizer is called Humanure and is used on trees, shrubs and flowering plants.

In Arkansas and as I suspect in most states this is not allowed except as an experimental on site treatment situation. Paper work would need to be filled out with complete design documentation and drawings. If approved it would be monitored by the health department routinely. They always reserve the right to shut it down. They probably would not approve any open system. They are too worried about mosquitoes and small animals such as rodents spreading disease about. I would think you might have a chance of getting permission for something that was fully covered by a glass green house  or glass geodesic agri dome. Agri-dome kits can be bought for $5000 to $12,000 depending on size. Also it would take time to get approval for such a project.

If you get the “Solar Living Source Book”, it will cover sewer and septic. It also list some products for composting toilets and incinerating toilets.  And in the “Earthship” books, one will cover a solar incinerating toilet with description and design images and photos. Commercial incinerating toilets use gas and cook the human waste at about 400 to 500 degrees. They are automated I suppose to deal with ash collection. I would think that the ash could be spread anywhere as it would be completely sanitary. The solar toilet works on the same principle however as the solar oven.  A solar oven can be made which in bright summer sun will heat to about 400 degrees for hours throughout the middle of the day.  Now imagine a 400 degree oven with a toilet seat above!  Well you may not want to sit on it during the oven operation hours. A tumbler may be added to turn the waste material as it is being incinerated. Waste is completely turned to ash and is safe to be handled when cool by hand.  As far as I know no solar incinerating toilet  is commercially available at this time.

I hear that some cities are charging residents for sewer based on their gallons of water used on the city water system and are charging twice as much for the sewer per gallon as for the city water per gallon.  A great reason to go Green I’d say.  Septic tanks are usually required to be much larger than would be needed for a green home that is highly water conservative with a gray water system. That would be my only gripe about septic. This would make them overly expensive.  Septic tanks at the time of this writing might cost you $2500 in the Arkansas area to have installed.

If you put one in be wary of flat terrain which can become highly saturated in rainy periods and cause your septic to backup the lines. Put a cleanout tube between the house and the tank that extends near or to the surface.  Don’t bury them too deep, not more than a foot as many septic cleanout services will not dig at all or more than a foot. If you want to buy a house with a septic tank then force the seller to have it inspected first which requires a cleanout. And make sure the locations are marked. Use Ridex bactera once per week to aid in waste digestion. Soaps kill bacteria when put down drains. Powdered detergents I hear might be a problem, use liquids instead. Fats from foods can be a problem because they can solidify and stop up leach lines. At the time of this writing a pump out service in the Arkansas area might charge $200 to $300 for a cleanout or more. If you were to build on a site that didn’t pass a perk test, then you would have a tank which would require a service contract for pumpouts.  It might need to be pumped out once a week once a month depending on use.  For this reason most people would never build on a site that didn’t perk, who wants to spend $100 a week or more on cleanouts? A green home with grey water system would be the only way to go when doing this option.

 They can repair eroded baffle walls too, as well as leech lines that have caved in and root damage. Some septic’s and most now days have a junction box for the leech lines which is separate from the septic tanks but nearby it. These pumping services can use a water jet to clean out your entire system. If you have a lot of solid matter in the tank which might require liquefying for pumping then an extra charge may be incurred. They basically flush it with surface water pulled out of the tank at the beginning of the process. And of course they charge by the gallon for clean out. Code requires tanks sized on occupancy meaning number of bed rooms in the home. 500 gallon may be the smallest size. 1000 gallon is typical.  Code also requires 300 feet of leech line. It is best to use multiple lines coming off of a junction box. Schedule 40 pvc pipe should be used.

 In the Earthship books the author shows how to construct some small outlaw septic tanks.  There are many older dwelling sites that have tanks which would not meed code standards. And there are still people who run their sewage into a field, in a location where its not highly visible even in Arkansas and get away with it. State department would not like it if they knew about it.  The main thing to consider is health.  Just love your neighbor as yourself, keep things healthy, out of site and out of smell and out of mind.

I read on a forum post recently a recommendation to make an outhouse and disguise it as a tool shed. Keep a tool box sitting on top of the toilet seat lid. Personally I’d construct a concrete container for the composting area beneath. I’d also bury any compost that I removed from it as health department requires for composted human waste.

Chemical toilets use alkaline based chemical such as caustic soda, which is commercial lye. There may be other chemicals in use as well. I however think this is a bad idea on the homestead. However our RV’s use such chemicals and the portable plastic toilets you see in use on construction sites and now in the military also use chemicals. When I learn more I’ll post more info here on this issue.

Gray water comes from these sources

  • De-humidification
  • Kitchen Sinks
  • Dish washer
  • Utility Sinks
  • Bath Sinks
  • Shower
  • Bath tubs
  • Cloths Washing

Health Departments may argue that shower, bath water, and bathroom sink water is also black water.  However if properly filtered in a sand filter or planter filter, and if properly sanitized with chlorination or  ultraviolet light, they may let you get away with returning this water to the environment. This water can certainly be reused to water house hold, green house and garden plants, as well as the lawns,flowers, shrubs and trees. And how about reusing this water in toilets vs. using city water or cleaner water home produced water. Matter of fact I’d use all gray water for toilets in place of city water or purer home produced water in toilets when possible. Of course it would have to be filtered first with a sand/plant filter.  A plant filter is inside a greenhouse where you have a lined tank. Gravel is in the bottom of the tank, then deep sand, then soil, then plants on top.  Filtered water can be pumped from the bottom gravel area.  Again to use this water outside it must be purified first. There is not much more to say about gray water except to say that this reuse would mean a lower electric bill or city water bill.

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4 responses

  1. Someone recently mentioned “macerating toilets”. I was told that this has something like a garbage disposal and it separates solids from liquids. A google search will tell you more about this kind. Apparently they are popular for yachts.

    March 4, 2011 at 12:46 am

  2. Pingback: Home Water Production « Larry D Gray

  3. http://www.envirolet.com/

    Composting Toilets in the $2K price range.

    May 29, 2012 at 11:45 am

  4. Fordferguson

    I had an idea to build the septic system before building the home. If you need to live on the property while doing the construction, then an outhouse could be used. Simply install the septic tank and leech field with a hole in the top. Construct your outhouse over the hole. When the home is finished simply connect the sewer and close in the top of the septic tank.

    August 28, 2016 at 7:58 pm

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