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Rainwater Flush


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Mary's Forum Posts: 101
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By Mary in PA on 6/25/2009


I’m planning on using a simple rainwater harvesting system for garden, fruit trees, animals. We’ll have metal roofs and give some thought to storage barrel/tank(s) as part of the site plan, seems like a 'go'. So I was doing some reading on this topic and I came across the following tutorial on rainwater harvesting to gravity feed toilets. The author of the article details it all out with lots of good pics. Here is the link: rain_barrel

 

So, I’m reading this article and thinking… hmm. This would be a lot easier to do as part of the initial house design rather than as a retrofit. The setup doesn’t seem to cost a lot, it’s low tech, it’s ‘reversible’ (turn a valve) if your rain barrel runs out during a dry spell. Sure, you could run the rainwater to a cistern or such, then use a pressurized tank to get it back to the toilet… but if you’re doing an initial build, is a gravity fed system easier? I’m not sure.

 

On the downside, I live in a climate with freezing temps in the winter. I would either need to disable it during the winter… Or make a space for the barrel in a part of the house (attic?) that does not see freezing temps. If I bring the barrel ‘indoors’, then I need to:

- account for punching through a wall (for the water pipe) while maintaining good insulation levels.

- protect against damage from system leaks (I was thinking maybe using one of those pans they use for a washing machine on the second floor, to catch water if something on the barrel failed and direct it down a drain.)

- allow some sq. ft. for the barrel itself, plus extra lumber to reinforce the floor

- allow extra cost for plumbing supplies to do both the rainwater and/or the conventional well water flush (i.e. more pipes)

 

So, this is an idea. Not sure about the code details. Any thoughts from others?


Am I going off the deep end (of the rain barrel) - so to speak?

 

Thanks,


Mary


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By Mary in PA on 6/25/2009


Rainwater Flush (cont.)

Just a note - we'll have well water and a septic system, so none of this water goes to a public system where I think they have some strict rules about what you dump where (i.e. no storm water enters the sewer water).

It may be more 'nice idea' than practical use. Not sure - which is why I posted.

I also found another source of info, a post similar to mine on a garden website. I thought it was the comments to that post that were really enlightening. Here's the link: gardenweb.com/forums

Mary


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By Rachal in Janesville, CA on 6/25/2009


I know nothing about the system that you are speaking of. I get the idea and think it's a great concept. From the descriptions and pros and cons that you bring up it would seem that though it's a fun idea, it's not very practical. 

I'm not sure that I would put it in my primary residence. It would be a great experiment in a shop, or cabin where it doesn't have to be depended on 365 days of the year.

I want the house that I am building to be less maintenance. I want a hot water heater that I don't have to flush every year to take out the sediments. I want floors that don't require arduous time-consuming labor to keep up. I want a roof that I don't have to replace shingles on every year because the wind blows them off.

With an experiment in the home you may find yourself doing strange maintenance on your home at very inconvenient times. I can't help but feel that your toilet isn't something to experiment with too much. It sounds like a perfect system for someone who lives in Hawaii. No freezing temperatures and steady predictable rainfall.
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By Mary in PA on 6/25/2009


"... With an experiment in the home you may find yourself doing strange maintenance on your home at very inconvenient times. I can't help but feel that your toilet isn't something to experiment with too much..." 

Well I certainly agree with that! LOL

My husband will have a shop (yet to be built) on the property... I like your idea of using that for the experiment.

Thanks for the input.


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By Pete in Cannon Beach, OR on 7/2/2009


Check with a water guy on this -- the people who put in filtration systems. I asked the man who installed my filters (about $6K because our well water has unacceptably high level of iron), about this, saying I regretted not doing it, and he said I should have no regrets because three of his customers with split systems had enough problems that they were sorry they did it. But I have no details beyond that.

If you are on a halfway decent well, the savings would sure be small. Might make sense in places like Portland OR where your sewer bill is based on your water use. You would probably get a bigger return on investing in some way to cut the electric costs on your well pump.

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By Terry in Phoenix / Oracle, AZ on 7/30/2009


Rainwater harvesting, particularly for irrigation alone, is not overly expensive or difficult to do. But, you do have to ensure in any system that some basics are followed:

First, the roofing material should be one that is compatible with rainwater harvesting. Metal roofs are best. Tile, if not a fiberglass-reinforced type, is acceptable. Granular shingle, built-up non-elastomeric, and hot-mop gravel are unacceptable. These last types will cause contamination of the water with both solids and pollutants and should not be used.

Next, you need to install roof washers at the downspouts or collection points before the water enters the storage tank. You can make these yourself, or purchase them. The washer consists of a length of vertical pipe with a angled screen/guard at the top. This portion of the washer allows leaves and other litter on the roof to be washed off and diverted from entering the tank. Below this is a section that allows for the collection of the first few minutes of rainfall with no or little water going to the collection point. This section allows the roof to be washed off of dirt, bird droppings, and other small foreign matter and particulates. Most roof washers are automatic in operation.

The storage tank can be above ground or below ground. A below-ground cistern is a great choice almost anywhere. This can be as simple as using a large fiberglass tank that is buried, or even a new septic tank would work for irrigation. Above ground installations I have seen often use a galvanized metal tank. I would recommend one large tank over several smaller ones as the one you pictured in your post.

For irrigation feed, you would need a simple pump to siphon from the tank and feed the system. A small pool pump would suffice in most cases.

If you wanted to use this system for a water supply, filtration and possibly chlorination and other treatment would be necessary. I would recommend using a professional for such a system due to potential health risks.


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By Small Timber Frame in Central Mass, MA on 10/21/2009


Mary,

Regarding the temperature, you might be able to get by with a "bubbler" to keep the water from freezing. That's one of the things they do up north around boats kept in the water, or bodies of water to keep them from going anaerobic. This could in turn be driven by a small windmill. One caveat is that you'd need to have a backup means of driving the pump to keep the bubbler going when there is no wind and no electricity.

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By Neil in New Albany, OH on 10/30/2009


Our well water has high levels of iron. One of our toilets used to be fed by hard well water. I cannot say that I recommend it. Earlier posters mentioned keeping the water clean and filtered, and I strongly support that. We retrofitted that toilet to a water line that is first filtered and then softened. Everything but our garden hose goes through a green-sand filter to get the iron out, followed by a regular refiner to soften it.

Use clean water to flush, or you will wind up cleaning the porcelain more than you want to.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 12/6/2009


On the related but broader topic of gray water, here is a link to a VERY comprehensive and rather sobering look at the "real" viability of greywater systems.

Beyond 55-gallon rain barrels at downspouts, the complexities and costs involved in rainwater/greywater systems are rather daunting. Water with ANY contamination that is allowed to sit and stagnate WILL putrefy. If you get beyond about 55 gallons at a time, timely consumption (to prevent putrification and odor problems) becomes an issue. Filtration/Purification systems seem to be VERY expensive and/or VERY maintenance intensive. Large stormwater tanks with pumps and drip irrigation systems CAN be viable for garden beds, "IF" enough (generally expensive) precautions (such as sand filtration) are taken to prevent fouling of the pumps and the pipes. 

In other words, in order to store enough water to get a large landscape through an extended drought, retention times will of necessity be long, and filtration and/or treatment will therefore be required to prevent both fouling of the water and maintenance problems with the equipment. It's apparently just not as simple as putting in a tank and attaching pumps and pipes for irrigation.

In my zeal to research the use of stormwater/rainwater for landscape irrigation, my research has so far shown that most systems end up abandoned within 10 years... not a good sign! The maintenance outweighs the benefits to most owners. MAYBE some of the newer systems will prove to be BOTH affordable AND low maintenance, but I'm not convinced yet. A viable rainwater cistern system certainly won't pay for itself with water savings at current prices. If you have expensive enough landscaping, the insurance value of the installation and the maintenance costs MIGHT be justifiable to get you through a bad drought.

As in most true "green" practices, conservation will get you MUCH farther than engineering systems to make up for inefficient use of resources.

A frequently-used toilet MIGHT be viable for untreated rainwater use, but it will cause cities with infiltration and inflow control programs (increasingly being mandated by the EPA nationwide) difficulty in assessing their true leakage rates (they look at water chemical concentrations to estimate potable water flow versus stormwater flow concentrations), and therefore local regulations are unlikely to EVER approve rainwater use this way. 

Quite frankly, a low-flow, pressure assisted, dual-flush system will likely provide more environmental benefit at a much better cost/benefit ratio than the "engineered" use of rainwater in the toilets.

Likewise, xeriscaping to limit the landscape irrigation requirements will provide far more environmental benefit at less cost and less maintenance effort than an expensive "active" greywater/stormwater irrigation system.

At this stage, I'm having second thoughts on the actual "wisdom" of "investing" in a cistern...  Not saying I won't have third thoughts that will bring me back to it, but just sayin'...


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/7/2009


I might suggest looking at this in two approaches; rainwater harvesting and greywater. One is easy to accomplish; greywater poses challenges. Rainwater harvesting benefits not just your landscape, but it reduces peak flows from stormwater runoff and extends the time to peak, both critical issues. Sure these are limited to one lot at a time, but enough single uses can be somewhat significant. For greywater about the only thing I would do differently today might be a split collection system in my house, tied together as it exits the house. This is minimal cost today that allows for greywater reuse at some future date when it becomes viable.

For rainwater harvesting, look at "rain gardens" that are essentially mini-wetlands and/or depression storage. I am using native wetland fringe vegetation that once established will have root systems 12-18' (yes that's feet, not inches) deep, and this is a lot of soil porosity that absorbs this water instead of stormwater runoff (not to mention erosion benefits). A bit of grading dictates where you might wish to establish your depression storage areas/rain gardens/mini-wetlands within your landscape. Reducing stormwater runoff has multiple benefits and is easy and cheap to accomplish at these micro levels.


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By Mary in PA on 12/8/2009


In reference to the original post above on the idea of a rainwater-flush toilet, and as the original poster, I thought I would chime back in. I appreciate the input on this somewhat uncommon idea, all good thoughts. As we approach the end of our house design odyssey this concept is not in the design, and actually hasn't been for some time now. It wasn't really the details of how to do this that made me take it out... it was much more basic than that - square footage. We're trying to keep the house size about 2,000 sq ft, so there just isn't room to mess around with this kind of idea (for inside storage of such a water system). And putting it outside seemed to raise too many difficulties in winter, or would require just using it part of the year.

Well, I can't help it - I still think it is a neat idea... but time and space allocations dictate we spend our resources on other areas of the design and construction. Maybe I'll put it on the Someday DIY Low-Priority Project List, Item #468201.
;-)


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By Mary in PA on 12/8/2009


I agree that harvesting rainwater for growing plants (and I would add, watering livestock) seems fairly easy to do. I have limited personal experience setting up and maintaining such a system so I'm open to the idea that I could be missing something. From what I've read and from the small systems I've worked with so far, I think keeping the system simple is the key. Simple to me means a system that can function without much fussy adjusting and uses non-moving parts like a screen, filter and tank. And it uses gravity to flow water to its end use whenever possible.

I live in an area that gets pretty good rainfall year round so my use of such a systems is less targeted at getting through an extended drought than it is to simply make use of good quality water easily collected (i.e. rainwater) vs. very nitrate-high water that must be pumped out of the ground. Animals use a lot of water - so it's ideal for them. And for fruit trees and berry bushes where a short-term dry spell at the wrong time of the year can cause problems, rainwater storage and use can be a harvest-saver. Also, I plan to use it to help jump-start shade trees by ensuring regular watering during our few 'dry' periods (i.e. 12 to 14 days without rain).

And yes, greywater harvesting seems a whole different thing. Interesting - but requires expertise. I won't be considering that at all in this house at this time.


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