Most people living in the average American household have no reason to contemplate the transfer, collection and disposal of the water that enters and leaves their homes. I certainly had never considered such things until Cedric and I went volunteering on organic farms. In the south of Spain, we spent time at Tierra Roja, a small olive farm where water is scarce for much of the year and any rain that falls is caught, stored and carefully used. They were watering their flower garden with the water from their sinks and showers so not a drop was wasted. It was the first time I’d ever seen a greywater system in action. As aquifers run dry and water becomes a scarcer resource, I see the proper recycling of it essential to transitioning our treatment of water to a more sustainable system and tiny house dwellers are on the front lines of this transition.
Living in a tiny house we have had to face the challenge of disposing our water safely since we weren’t hooked up to the city’s system. Our initial introduction at that farm inspired us to try a simple, DIY system that would use our greywater to irrigate a small garden. We took 1 1/2″ pvc pipe, attached it to the plumbing of the house and buried it in the garden. Since we didn’t put in a filter we did not put any solids of any kind down the drain. We also carefully chose our bath soaps, used homemade shampoos and biodegradable dish soap so as not to damage the soil, plants or watershed. I wish we had taken pictures of the process but all I have is the evidence in this picture of extremely happy banana trees!
The majority of folks don’t think twice about these things and it’s wonderfully convenient to not have to. However, I’ve learned a lot about sustainable water practices by living with this system and I prefer it to sending this precious resource to a facility with black water where it becomes much more polluted and takes a lot of energy to introduce safely back in to the water cycle. It’s also a major plus for dry environments that see little rainfall and who at times must rely on their aquifers for water, as we experienced in Spain.
To sustain and maintain these deep fonts of water we need to replenish them. Allowing greywater to be filtered by plants back in to the ground recharges the aquifers and keeps them from drying out. The beauty of greywater systems is they can be incredible simple to construct, use and maintain. The collaborative group Greywater Action For A Sustainable Water Culture is an incredible resource not only for learning to construct and maint these systems, they also have a wealth of information on composting toilets, rainwater catchment and pedal-powered washing machines!
As we prepare to move La Casita once again, we plan to build a more elaborate system that can withstand the Vermont winters. The Greywater Action website also has great reviews of projects and useful tips for winterizing these systems. In the South it was much easier to manage it and although it will be more of a challenge it is another opportunity to learn and create a regenerative system. I’ll be posting details of our next greywater project so check-in with the tiny life over the next few weeks to see the details of construction!
- Have any tips on water disposal in a tiny house?
- How do you feel about the current disposal and treatment of water?
- Do you think greywater systems are viable project towards changing how we think about water disposal?
Top question when someone hears we live in a tiny house? What do you do about the bathroom? Everyone is curious what the is deal with waste disposal. We use a composting system-some folks buy incinerators, others buy fancy compost toilets and then there are those on a budget who use the bucket system. After taking a permaculture course I became fascinated with going a step beyond the composting system. We had a lecture on biogas systems and the biofuels made available by the anaerobic decomposition of waste. Since that day I’ve been researching systems that have been widely used throughout India, Africa, and Latin America. In the US these systems have been used for some time by water treatement plants as an alternative form of energy for generators in the case of emergencies.
Biogas systems take waste and capture the methane from the anaerobic decomposition of the effluent and supplies you with fertilizer and fuel when the cycle is complete. A digester is the apparatus that controls the decomposition and consists of a sealed tank or pit and a means by which to gather and store the methane. I’m so interested in these systems for reasons of sustainability and efficiency. Composting waste is an alternative to the current system of polluting a finite resource but biogas systems take it a step further by gathering fuel that does not require invasive collection from the depths of the earth. It takes toxic waste, keeps it out of the environment and allows it to be used in multiple ways to human benefit.
There are many different shapes and models of biogas plants but by far the most popular and wide spread design is the Indian cylindrical pit design. It has proven to be reliable in many different environs and it’s widespread use dates to the 1970’s. There are two basic parts to the design, a tank that holds the slurry (manure and water) and a gas cap or drum on the tank to capture the gas.
My dreams were dashed for building one of these for our tiny house when I discovered that two people don’t make enough poop to fuel even a small system. You need around 6 people and 6-8 cows for the system to function in a way that meets fuel needs. The first step of building such a system is getting community support and finding other folks who want to use such a system together. In a city this would make a lot sense but in our current situation out in a rural area, just me, Cedric and the pup it’s not a realistic option.
This technology is one that I will keep on the back burner for now but if this article has peaked your interest at all then definitely check out the via link at the bottom of this page. There is a detailed construction manual for the Indian cylindrical pit system that provides advantages, disadvantages, considerations, costs, labor input and more excellent graphics as well as charts on building this biogas system. I hope to be assisting with the construction of such a system in the near future so until then share you interest and experience if you have it with biogas and biofuel systems. I’d love to hear what folks think of the implementation of these systems and how the social perspective on waste treatment can be altered toward regenerative design.
- How do you see alternative systems fitting in to the philosophy and living of the tiny life?
So just a few days ago I did a post on Japan’s new coffin apartments that are so small, you can’t even stand up in them, but rent for $600 a month! Today I ran across another post about Hong Kong’s urban density. The United States has a density of 88 people per square mile, while Hong Kong has 16,568 people per square mile!
It shows what an urban dense future could look like and allows us to understand what that would mean, more importantly hopefully perused us to keep an eye on our population growth.
These photos almost have an artistic quality to them, but then your realize people live in these.
Yesterday I was talking about tiny houses with another tiny house aficionado when the topic of how do tiny houses intersect with the need in the future for more urban density. There have been several studies suggesting that in order to meet the needs of the future, more and more people are going to have to live in cities. The land around cities will also have to be shifted to agricultural spaces to support these cities with food that can be produced within a few hours travel time.
So what do tiny houses mean for this potential future? Tiny houses provide a living laboratory for people to try out different design ideas, utility systems, storage solutions, and learn lessons that can be taken and applied to small sustainable housing of the next evolution of the city. I have been asked many of times: “how do you think you’ll get the same density with tiny houses as you do apartment buildings?” The simple answer is I’m not.
In a city setting essentially you could have same interiors, but the outside form would be one that is stack-able. Since you can’t have side wall windows or a sky light, we are going to have to make the end walls floor to ceiling windows to get enough light in. We will need to design as part of the master plan, outdoor living spaces that people actually want to hang out in, with roof top gardens, building courtyards, local community gardens, and great parks.
In the suburbs and rural areas I’d expect to see more mini villages pop up in the form of co-housing projects. These villages would most likely allow people who want to live in the country do so, but also be the hubs for agricultural activities for themselves and the cities.
I struggle personally with the notion that we may be faced with living more and more in dense cities because I am one that likes room to roam, a quite place to sit and think and green space to be in. Here in Charlotte, while it is a very sizable city, I live on several acres. I have been fortunate enough to travel a good bit and even cities that have done a really good job with their parks and green spaces, I still find myself feeling smothered by tall buildings and concrete. Cities certainly offer a lot to do, but there is something deep inside of me that resonates with being outdoors in the woods. Something that I fear no high density city will be able to provide me with.
- How do you see the future of housing?
- What will the cities and country look like for a sustainable future?
It’s a curious thing why so many Americans don’t recycle, currently just a little more than half of Americans do. There is a very different attitude than I have seen in other countries and it seems to vary from city to city as well. I know in some places, recycling isn’t a service offered, while some places its an optional pay for service. Here in Charlotte, NC it is lumped into our taxes and every home is given a recycle bin. But even though the bins are provided and people have already paid for the service, they refuse to recycle. I have heard everything from I don’t know what I can recycle to “I’m not a tree hugger, I don’t recycle on principle.” :palm to face: Anyway, here is a interesting info graphic on recycling:
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