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May 2009

Compliments of OasisHybridHomes.com

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Gray Water Collection and Recycling

Last month we explored reasons why we should be in charge of our own water supply and how it makes good sense to collect rain water for domestic use. Likewise, it became apparent that conservation of the collected water is essential if “water independence” is desired.

Water conservation can, of course, be achieved in some measure by watching how one uses - the fifteen minute shower- the faucet that runs all the time while brushing our teeth and so on. Another smart water saving idea, (that should be adopted in the residential and light commercial plumbing code a long time ago, but is not as of now) is the warm water pipe “circulating loop design”, as opposed to the conventional “main trunk and branch design”. Simply explained: the circulating design provides warm water close to the fixtures at all times, thus preventing wasted water by running the faucet until warm water is available, which is what occurs in the “branch” design.  

Here, in this newsletter, I am tackling the biggest household water user first - the toilet. Toilet flushing averages forty percent of a household’s water usage. Each flush requires 1.6 gallons of water. When dual flush toilets are installed in the home, 1 gallon of water can be saved each time you can use the simple flush instead of the full flush option.

However, some huge water savings also come into play when all water used for toilet flushing consists of gray water (already used in the house once before being recycled). This water saving concept will slash forty percent off of domestic water use, without even trying to modify our habits!

Here at the Oasis Hybrid Home, we set out to be completely water independent. With pretty minimal precipitation of about nineteen inches a year, we must implement many water saving ideas (structural as well as behavioral). As my nine year old son continuously saves water by neglecting to wash and brush, this saving does not compensate for the great outpouring of water on the females in the house.

Promoting a “water usage” attitude change for my two teenager daughters and my lovely wife is indeed necessary in order to become water independent -- I might even save enough to brush my son’s teeth!  Although a daunting task, I decided to give it my best shot.

"Gray water” is water that drains from any fixture besides the toilets. The stuff that comes out of the toilet drains is qualified as “black water". Traditionally both gray and black water empty into the same drain pipe to be carried to a septic tank and field or a city sewer system. We do not normally reuse any of it.

When looking at this more closely, one realizes that most of the water coming from other drain points (except the toilet) is mostly clean. (Maybe with the exception of the kitchen sink and dishwasher).

In the Oasis Hybrid Home we decided to install a separate drain pipe system that would carry all gray water to a different location than the black water, so that it could be reused in the house for toilet flushing. From this gray water drain system, we excluded the kitchen sink , dishwasher and one laundry sink and hooked these up to the black water drain system. These drain points would allow too much junk into the gray water system -- and would require excessive filtering in order to be suitable for toilet flushing.

The water coming from showers, vanities, bathtubs and a washing machine drains into a south facing, attached greenhouse. Here it first arrives into an “erode” box where the water moves into a subsurface irrigation system where particles stay behind to be exposed to and be fried by sunlight. The erosion process of the sun’s heat and another splash of gray water eventually will break up the particles into small enough pieces to pass through the filtering screen, enter the subsurface irrigation system and provide the plants in the greenhouse with nutrients. While the gray water is entering the erode box and irrigation system, any heat present in the water is also reclaimed in the planter's soil.

The planter in which the gray water is discharged is a three foot deep trough with eighteen inches of rock covered with landscape fabric. On top of this, we placed three inches of sand where we then constructed the irrigation system with a slight slope for gravity draining. Above this is a foot of topsoil in which all kinds of plants and vegetables happily grow.

We enjoyed an abundance of cherry tomatoes until mid December and have grown chard, leeks, parsley, kale, mocha, onions, radishes and all kinds of sprouts throughout the winter. The construction of this planter allows the plants and soil bacteria to interact with the incoming gray water and clean it up to a degree where it no longer is recognizable as “dirty” water!

The plants are essential to this clean-up process and without them, any design that reintroduces gray water back into the house, will not work.

The irrigation system installed in the planter deals with more water than the plants use. This extra water filters through the sand and rock to the sloping planter floor. When this cleaned-up gray water hits the floor, gravity drains it into a fifty-five gallon drum, from which it is pumped into the toilet reservoirs, for use when needed. A fifty-five gallon drum with an overflow is all I want to use for gray water storage, because that will keep my supply “fresh”. In the event, where there is not enough gray water (has never happened to me yet) a low level float in the fifty five gallon drum will trigger a motorized valve to drop some fresh water into the planter, as a way to supplement the supply. Obviously there is no direct connection between fresh and gray water and an “air gap” always has to be present between the systems in order to avoid contamination.

Before the gray water enters the toilet reservoirs it is filtered through two particle filters, twenty micron and three micron respectively. This avoids any problems with the toilet reservoir mechanics.

To deal safely with gray water, it is essential to design the system in a way so that gray water can only be touched with some conscious effort. Although generally not dangerous, it can contain harmful bacteria (for instance when a sick person takes a bath). This is why it is much preferable not to come into physical contact with gray water.

Of course the “operator” of the system (which is me for the Oasis Hybrid Home) will know what he might be dealing with and take precautions when servicing the system. When it is time to change filters, I simply put on some rubber gloves and wash my hands thoroughly after I am done.

Gray water drain pipes are also to be marked as per code.

As I am proofreading this ... I am thinking: “Why the heck would any one go through this hassle??” Well here are some answers:

  • Another step towards independence
  • Save money by pumping less water for domestic use.
  • Help the environment by lessening the gallon amount of sewage.
  • Help the environment by saving on carbon emissions emitted to run sewage treatment plants. (If implemented on a large scale)
  • Help the environment by reducing the carbon emissions emitted to pump clean water for domestic use. (If implemented on a large scale).
  • Reclaim heat from gray water.
  • Raise some of your own vegetables even during the winter!
  • The perfect cure for “cabin fever”

From the Oasis, as I am looking at a hypnotizing April snow fall, I say that it was very much worth doing.

                                                Warm Greetings,                                                                Pouwel

The Seattle Green Festival

So here I was in the big city of Seattle setting up a booth inside the convention center. Good thing my brother Jan was there to help me and show me the way. For weeks he and I had labored on how to get the “Oasis Hybrid Home“ into some presentable form, usable for this convention.

And man, did we have a blast! By the end of two days of continuous blabbing our mouth, Jan was still making sense, where as I was suffering from brain hyperventilation. Never had it before, but the symptoms suspiciously look like a serious high.

There was a great amount of interest in the Oasis Hybrid Home concepts and we even had two presentations for private parties, with a Power Point slide show and all!

Many promising contacts were made both with people visiting and other exhibitors. This convention is really a fantastic eye opener and a stimulating networking opportunity.

There is such a wealth of good initiatives and inspiring ideas out there! A big thanks to all who have made our attendance there possible!!                                                                                                                                       Pouwel

     Our newsletter is a free contribution to encourage education and grassroots discussion with the goal to better the earth for us and future generations.   

     Thank you for taking your time to read this newsletter! I hope you will come back to visit us next month, when we will talk about Solar and Wind Power.

Call for help

     If you are in the market for an existing home or are looking for a lot to build a new one and would like my assistance in evaluating the property for maximum element-gathering capabilities, please contact me at 406-223-1406.  You can also contact me if you would like help with any of the elements explained above, or to build your own oasis hybrid home, which is designed to include all the above considerations and custom-fitted to your site location.

Ask A Question

     Please join me for the tour and fire off your questions for our mid month frequently asked questions and answers portion of our newsletter to pouwel@oasishybridhomes.com

 

Pouwel Smiling
Pouwel Gelderloos, Designer,
Builder and Founder
of Oasis Hybrid Homes.com

 

Bricks retain heat
Sun Porch

 

 

 

graywater
Part of Gray Water System

 

 

 

 

sun porch
Pipes for Irrigation System

 

 

 

 

Sun room
Soil is ready for plants

 

 

 

 

Plants grow
Plants are growing

 

 

 

 

Gelderloos Brothers
Pouwel and Jan in Seattle

 

 

 

 

Seattle Green Festival
Booth at Seattle Green Festival

 

 

 

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