Sustainable housing and real estate in Kitchener-Waterloo Region


Sewage Treatment, Containment and Distribution
March 10, 2010, 8:07 pm
Filed under: Sustainability | Tags: , , , , ,

reprinted from Earthship Biotecture.

We must become more aware of where our sewage goes.

Earthships contain, use and reuse all household sewage in indoor and outdoor treatment cells.

This results in food production and landscaping with no pollution of aquifers.

Toilets flush with treated gray water that does not smell.

Containment, Treatment & Distribution

The concept used for containment, treatment and distribution of sewage-water is based on and draws information from the wetlands concept which has long been used in exterior applications for thousands of years by humans and nature.

The Earthship sewage system differs from the wetlands approach in that it primarily treats the gray water inside the building and the sewage from the toilet outside of the building, both in smaller areas. Greywater is the used water after all receptacles except the toilet.

All household sewage is used & reused in the interior and exterior planters, called botanical cells.

Earthship greywater planter

Use & Re-use

Water is used to carry away our household sewage in a conventional way such as bathing, washing dishes, and for the toilet. The sewage-water, also called gray water, is used and cleaned for a second time in interior botanical cells. The flush toilet is the third use of the water. After the toilet, the water is contained and treated, and used a fourth time in exterior botanical cells.

Phoenix Earthship Kitchen

Interior Botanical Cell

The Earthship gray water system has been researched and developed by Earthship Biotecture for over 20 years. This system allows for the need of far less water than is conventionally assumed.

Gray Water Organizing Module (gWOM)

The gWOM pumps the treated water, which is now gray water to the toilet to flush.
The gWOM is part of our retrofit package for your existing home. Ask us about it: 575-751-0462 or biotecture@earthship.com.
Click here to use a web form to send a message

Greywater Organizing Module

Exterior Botanical Cell

The effort to contain the outdoor system rather than letting it leach into the earth is much more realistic and manageable because of its lower volume. It should also be noted that one or many more contained cells can be added to the outdoor system if necessary. This simply adds to the controlled landscaping of the home.

The objective is to eliminate the need for public sewage systems and un-contained septic systems that pollute the earth, while getting multiple uses out of all water collected in the catchwater systems.

For the purpose of satisfying convention, the Earthship Sewage system is set up (via valving) to flow entirely into the conventional septic tank and on to a conventional leach-field. The Earthship water system is not, therefore, in place of but in addition to convention.

Blackwater planter overview

Blackwater planter overview

The path of WASTE water in an Earthship:

  • After water is used in sinks, showers and bat-tubs, it then drains into linear biologically developed interior gray water treatment and containment systems (gray water planters).
  • Clean looking (but not drinkable) water is piped to flush the toilet (toilets) with.
  • Next the water goes outside to a conventional septic tank that is solar heated with a glazed south side to enhance the anaerobic process. This unit functions like a regular septic tank (only better) with a line out to a conventional leach-field.
  • We add a preferred but optional line out that goes in to rubber lined exterior botanical cell(s) (size and quantity varies) that are constructed very similar to the interior gray water treatment and containment planter. This facilitates total containment of remaining effluent and directs its use toward exterior landscaping. After this use the water again tests below measurable nitrate levels
Also available are dry, Solar Toilets. These act like composting toilets, but they admit the sun to increase effectiveness. Construction drawings are available.

We live in a time when many parts of our planet are experiencing water shortages. The volume of water on this planet is finite whilre human population increases. As we gauge the depletion of our aquifers and the increase in population, we are able to pedict serious water shortages in the near future.

We must begin now… learning to harvest water in each individual home. We must use this water many times before putting it back into the earth. When we do put it back, it must be in a form that works with existing nurturing forces and phenomena of the earth.

To further compound the water problem on this planet, we have polluted and contaminated most of our easily accessible surface waters and are beginning to contaminate the more difficult to access aquifers beneath the surface of the our planet. This contamination happens because of the way conventional sewage systems operate.

Facing the Facts

  • If there are energy shortages, individuals will have water problems.
  • If there is ecological damage, individuals will have water problems.
  • If there are economic crisis, individuals will have water problems.
  • If there are computer glitches, individuals will have water problems.
  • If there is political turmoil, individuals will have water problems.
  • If there is war, individuals will have water problems.

Almost anything that happens in the future can result in questionable availability of fresh water. This is not just an environmental problem. The continued pollution of the atmosphere, the surface and subsurface of the earth is not the only cause for alarm about availability of fresh water. Water availability to individuals is dependent on every other social system being in place, stable, health and at peace. It is inevitable that we will experience failure of one or more of these systems at some point in the future.

We are simply adapting our needs to the already existing activities of the planet.

Why pipe water long distances from a centralized community water system, or from an expensive well that needs significant electrical power, depletes aquifers and lowers the water table, when water fall from the sky?

Why have a corporate or political “middle man” between us and our energy needs? our vessel (home) must be designed to sail with the forces that exist beyond human control and exploitation.

An understanding of mechanical systems for most humans is limited to what is within reach of their fingertips. It is understood that when you flip a switch on the wall, a light comes on. when you turn on the faucet, hot water comes out. When you pull the handle on the toilet, it flushes. Little though is given to where the electricity comes from or what kind of nuclear waste was produced to generate it. how many of us even know where the power plant is that supplies our power. Few people ever wonder which water table is depleted to bring them water and what chemicals have been added to it. Where does the sewage go after it is flushed and which rivers and lakes are polluted by it?

Humans need comfortable temperatures, light, electricity, hot water, food, sewage treatment, etc. These necessities are all available within the framework of a certain “rhythm” in the Earthship. The more we are able to align our priorities and needs with the prevailing rhythms of the planet, the easier and less expensive (both in terms of economics and ecology) they will be to obtain.

If our lifestyles can conform more to the patterns of the planet than to our socioeconomic system, we can reduce the stress on both ourselves and the planet. This is easier said than done due to the “reality” and the “gravity” of mortgage payments, utility bills and the generally high cost of eating and living. Most of us have no choice. We have to be places at certain times looking certain ways in order to make the money needed to make those payments. However, many people have built Earthships themselves and ended up with little to no mortgage payment. They also have little or no utility bills and their ability to grow food year-round inside the Earthship has greatly affected what they have to spend on packaged, processed foods.

The condition of our planet tells us we must now begin to take responsibility for what happens beyond the reach of our fingertips. We must begin to reconsider the source of these utilities, our access to them, and how we dispose of the waste produced. The mechanical systems of the Earthship confront these issues directly. We call this direct living. Source, access and destination are all contained within the Earthship, within the reach of our fingertips. There is no mystery involved in Earthship electricity. There is no unknown source of water. There is no magical black hole that sucks up all our sewage. Instead, we work in harmony with the earth to deal with these issues – taking what it has to give us directly and giving back what it wants to receive. With this harmony ringing in our minds we evolve the Earthship Systems.



Ways to save water around your home.
March 9, 2009, 8:39 pm
Filed under: Rebecca Sargent, Sustainability | Tags: , , ,

Canadians waste a lot of water. Each person here uses on average 329 litres of water per day, more than twice as much as the average person living in France and significantly more than those in less developed nations. Canada has an abundance of freshwater, with 7% of the world’s supply of total renewable water flow and 25% of the world’s supply of wetlands. It has the largest per capita supply of freshwater amongst industrialized nations. Despite this supply, many Canadian municipalities have reported water shortages because of socio-demographic pressures. 85% of the population lives within 300km of the American border, yet 60% of the water flows towards the less populated north. Our current water usage is not sustainable, and is taking incredible amounts of taxpayer money to clean and purify at over $4.5 billion per year. We need to find ways to cut our water wastes.

Canadians spend approximately 35% of their water usage showering and bathing and about 30% flushing toilets. A typical low flow shower head uses about 10 litres of water per minute (10 minute shower=100 litres).  A typical basic bathrub will hold around 150 litres of water, soaker or larger tubs much more (up to 500 litres or more). Building codes have required 6 litre/flush toilets since 1996, but older toilets can use as much as 20 litres per flush and the average person flushes 7 times a day.

These amounts can be reduced with simple measures, like switching to low-flow toilets and shower heads and fixing leaks as soon as they happen. One drop per second from a leaky tap wastes about 10,000 litres of water per year. Shortening shower time can also drastically reduce water usage.

Using a grey-water system in the home, a more expensive solution, can reduce home water usage by 35-40% annually. This system recycles water that has been used in your shower or kitchens and uses it for toilet flushing and irrigation purposes. Basically, it allows you to reuse the water from your shower in your toilet, drastically saving your water usage. Check out http://www.ecoshift.ca/, a Cambridge company for more details or to have your home assessed for waste reduction.

Canadians water their lawns on average 1.5 times a week in the summer months, often using hose water coming from their municipality. This water could come from the sky, by using rain barrels or rain water tanks to collect and store rainwater. Many designs are available and can suit most outdoor household needs.

Dishwashers use approximately 57 litres of water per load, EnergyStar appliances typically use much less water and energy. Only run the dishwasher when full to save water. Clothes washers use on average 150 litres of water per load, with EnergyStar or front loading appliances using significantly less water and energy.

When renovating your home or upgrading appliances, consider switching to EnergyStar or low flow options. How much do you spend on your water bill? How much can changing your daily living affect this? Small changes can make drastic differences. If you need advice on where to start, just ask me!