Green Modern Kits brings affordable prefab house kits to you!

Prefab Green Homes: Passive Solar House Kits from Green Modern Kits!

Our family's passive solar zero energy off grid house kit construction blog.
See affordable prefab house kits at / and


Thursday I Was Thankful. Today, I am Thinking.

Prefab House Kit's Shop Dawg Sunbathes On The Picnic Table...

There were several architecture / green building links I found interesting this week; thought I'd share for any green building professionals out there in the ether...
  • Handsome Husband was discussing Autonomous Building, its history, and how it stresses, like we do, that it's not just efficient architecture that makes a home, but to expand an owner's vision to not just creating an energy efficient (hopefully off grid / zero energy prefab) house, but to growing food, increasing each home's sustainability...
  • On twitter I ran into a thought provoking post on Builder Self-Verification And Certification, which goes into much more than the initial "why or why not you would want to certify a residence" and expands into 3rd party verification, affordable housing, and the importance of catching defects.
  • Why LEED shouldn't be the minimum mandatory (same goes for BREEAM...)
Any-hoo, I've been thinking.

I've been thinking on that bathroom... in the modern yet rustic off grid prefab house kit.

We have researched and researched composting toilets in tight envelope homes, looking on the passive house usual websites and more, and are not finding much. I suspect it's because most people involved with passive house institute homes lean more towards "what's the latest coolio toys" and not towards more simple-but-kinda-might-be-a-tad-hippie solutions. Or maybe they're just super urban people who shun anything that resembles an outhouse, indoors. OR, despite our planned installation of an ERV, maybe they know something we don't know!

Seriously, until we finish ERV installation, there is a *noticeable* difference between warmer months and cooler with the composting toilet. I assume that until our radiant heat is connected, when the temperature drops, the composting stops at a certain point. But that's not the end of it - with the penetrations, and no ERV yet installed... it  can pull in air from the toilet and smell! EW! Even the smell of sawdust is unacceptable to me. Sometimes it works great, even in this cold weather you might not smell a *thing* - yet often, it doesn't. That doesn't bode well for winter parties, honeys. And the manufacturer seems to have no plan for this, which is to *their* disadvantage as people build tighter and tighter efficient homes.

I wonder about all of their Canadian clients - really? You haven't addressed this yet?
The one thing they offer is a heater for winter months. Yet I can't imagine so many people would not be off grid and looking to avoid such a drain on their energy resources. There is a call for more efficiency here...

  • Foot pedals for the sinks so that you can turn on and off water while hands are occupied to conserve water
  • And if foot pedals, would it make sense to have foot pumps? 
  • Bath / shower area: I *love* that livestock trough, I do.
    It's *almost* perfect. But...
Thinking on penetrations in a tight envelope:
My happy, hot, mid-century cook stove.

We now have three penetrations added: the composting toilet, inverter (temporary penetration), and the cook stove.
Penetrations, as expected, are affecting our experience until we can address them better, as, again, I remind you we're under construction. I'm just noting how... noticeable it is.

I am eyeing the effect on energy efficiency. We will not be re-testing any time in the next months, (but will after the project is considered finished and we have re-sealed, etc.) but believe me as winter approaches I notice and note any deviations in building tightness in our own informal measurements.  I realize the comfort of the cook stove is weighed against the loss of heat through the penetration of the chimney... do they balance out as a "win" in comfort & heat when the cook stove is going in the winter?

For the heartfelt heat and efficient function the mid-century cook stove offers, I think so.

Passive Solar:
Regardless, it is heartening to see how, as the seasons turn, the overhang which in the summer shields the passive solar off grid zero energy home from the hot sun, retracts, as the sun lowers itself in the winter sky, to EMBRACE its rays.  You really notice it on the windows and on the floor...
See how at this time of year the shadow line does not overlap the windows?
That allows allllllllllll the sun to come in. As they said in Hair: LET THE SUN SHINE!
Dogs taking advantage of an afternoon nap in the sun...

So, after living with no heat in a tight house last year and seeing its efficiency, going through a winter with penetrations will be interesting. Despite knowing about the penetrations, I was disappointed when I awoke to 59. Until I realized how COLD it was last night. AND, for safety, we empty / end the cook stove before bed, so it no longer heats for a long period of time after we retire.
The highs were in the high 40s yesterday, lows in the low 20s.
Frost covered car and grounds, yet in the prefab house kit it's cozy.

Not too bad, eh?

You may have seen our Thanksgiving pictures...
In my parent's den, I was reminded again for my need to remember how to make Lamp Lighters.
In my parent's home, and many old structures, you might see Lamp Lighters in a corner.
Here they are at my parents -

For those of you with a burning (ha) desire how to know how to make Lamp Lighters, which are very useful for lighting high candle sconces, and wood stoves, here my mom explains how to do so:
(Apologies for the visiting, tired two year old protesting in the background at the beginning- she was determined to not be torn away from our chickens, with whom she had just fallen in love... maybe the Easter Bunny will bring her some pullets...)

How To Make Lamp Lighters

Laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadies and Gentlemen! 
Now that you know how to make Lamp Lighters, for my next trick, I am going to attempt to make a chandelier!!! #Vintage #Reuse #Recycle

Remember those mid-century Venini Tronchi individual, handblown glass thing-a-mah-jigy's I found a few weeks back? Well, this is my crafty weekend. I've made Lamp Lighters, so how hard can it be to make a chandelier?!?

It was too hard. Handsome Husband fixed it for me.
I feel deeply sorry for Unsuspecting Hardware Store Clerks that encounter us when we're on a Crafty Mission...

Here it is in its current state, without inner lighting or staggered height as planned, yet:
This is just aglow from the sunset behind it!
Outdoor sunlight makes it sparkle without light bulbs!
Ok the sun set so now we added a candle...

Speaking of, um, lighting, we lit up the back of a hill today.
Nothing like a gun-shy alpha dog to infringe upon yer shooting as he streaks out after yer fire.
"Don't! Boss! Bullets!" I advise.

Dog. Don't Control The Bullet. Thanks.

[Then call, collar him gently, and lead him, staggering uphill, off to the prefab house kit refuge where he can shake indignantly at the fact he can't control 'em, as shots are echoing in the distance, while within the safe confines of the house I decide to relax with the crazy dog and younger chillunz, watching two adorable Princesses play dress up...]

Unexpectedly, we were given the gift of venison.
That is a greater honor and tale than I can share here.
Those that know it, know.
Thank you, Mr. Scott! : ) We are honored!

And now even more reason to fix these penetration / composting toilet winter issues so we can have a Proper Thank You Party with our friends who have been so generous to us and know we have the cook stove now... (and probably wondering why we haven't had our celebratory Soup Party yet...).
There are those composting toilet issues to fix before celebrating with a crowd, y'all.
We're working on it.
Again, it should be fine once we have the power hooked up.

As usual, we run renegade another season...

But we have the comfort of a cook stove.

A friend suggested we name her...
This proud, steadfast Mealmaster is definitely a she.
She was previously in the home of a very old African-American woman who made decades of delicious meals and memories with her. I wish we had met.

At the end of that woman's life, she was sold to a repairman who had admired her for years and told that woman over and over each time he visited, "I would love to buy her if you ever want to part with her."

As she moved to the nursing home, she called him.

Sadly, this cook stove sat in a tobacco barn, years passed, and one day the repairman admitted he would never install her, put her up for sale, which is how we found her, and she came home.

We are so grateful for her...

You know those guys you decry that are constantly touching, waxing, and buffing their glistening muscle cars? That's me with my cook stove.
I am having a good time with my friends over on Facebook trying to name her.

Thinking further:
We could add thermal mass to that cook stove / kitchen island to enhance radiant heat in winter.
A Star is BORN.
Well, she already existed, we just love her even more.

SHELVES!!!!!!!!! (Thank you, Handsome Husband!)
And finally, to end this weekend?
Handsome Husband made shelves.
Reused and recycled with plywood left over in another project, finally I can get cast iron pans off the floor, store flour and sugar in a safe, accessible place, line each bedroom with books... everyone has their own space, and place, for their Special Things.

We're happy.
But thinkin'.



Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,




We are thankful.
As someone who comes from colonist, native american, and immigrant stock... I say, get over it, gather, and eat.

So we headed Over The River And Through The Woods To Grandma's House... who actually lives two minutes away in a big old pile o' bricks...

(Speaking of being Thankful and Grateful: I am grateful for our prefab house kit!
Check out the first days of our off grid zero energy prefab house kit  in that post!)

...and then to Richmond's beautiful Fan District to while away a delightful afternoon with The H's.




I'll Take Yer Fast Food Advertising And Raise You Not One But THREE Mom-Made, Home Cooked Meals.

As we navigated Broad Street on the drive home from school, my eight year old remarked, "I would like to eat at Taco Bell."

"Taco Bell? Really? Why?!?"
"Because it has bright colors... It looks like a good place to eat."
I thought about the 4.2 BILLION dollars the fast food industry spends annually on advertising, just to sway young children into thinking "It looks like a good place to eat."

When we got home, I thought maybe I'd better make tacos.

Copeland's "Damned If I'll Ever Feed Ya Taco Bell" Tacos
2 packages of ground beef (We buy a 1/4 cow from Boxwood Farms so natural, humanely raised and pastured beef is always at the ready)
minced onions (I used 1/2 of a Very Large onion)
28 oz whole tomatoes (hand crushed into small bits w/juice saved)
salt to taste (I always use kosher, I like the larger grains)
vegetable oil
fresh lettuce, shredded (romaine works great)
shredded cheese (we used Monterey Jack)
organic salsa
tacos, soft tortillas, whatever

Sautee minced onions until soft. Add the meat, then slowly as needed the juice, then tomatoes, simmer until cooked.
Add dashes and dashes of cinnamon. I was out of chili powder. Do not use chili powder, use cinnamon, I promise you will thank me, it's delicious, so be grateful for improvised cooking because otherwise you'd probably never do this unless making middle eastern food. You can thank me, now, thank yew. If you're still on the fence consider: Mexicans use cinnamon often in cooking, and yer makin' freakin' tacos!

On the dining table, lay out bowls of shredded lettuce, cheese, salsa, meat sauce, and tacos.  Build each one asking each child for advice and preferences. They will *love* helping you cook, and make, their very own Non Fast Food Healthy Delicious And You'd Never Get Something This Good From Taco Bell dinner!

My mom told me yesterday that she and her bridge club were lamenting "the next generation's" food waste.
They paused: "Wellllll, except for Copeland. She can pick a chicken four ways!"
That's right, and I do the same with tacos:

The next day, make pasta, add meat sauce, sprinkle with Parmesan, and you've got a great lunch.
The following morning? Whisk in a little flour and pepper to the remaining meat juice, toss in some sour cream biscuits into the oven, and you've got yourselves biscuits and gravy, honeys.

For the price of one forgettable, preservative and chemical laden, factory farmed Taco Bell meal, you just made yourself three home cooked, fresh meals, and imprinted your children's taste buds and memory of what good food can be.
Take that, fast food industry.




Give A Gal A Cook Stove...

Give a gal a cook stove, then she covets a solar fridge. And freezer. And built in cabinets.
I have *dreams,* y'know...

For weeks now, I have been making and freezing soups, casseroles, stews... in anticipation of *finally* having heat in the still under construction SIP prefab house kit thanks to my darling, beloved cook stove.

We fired it up for the first time Saturday morning, and christened the day with pancakes, percolated coffee, moments of awe as we watched the wood cook stove actually, after all this time and saga, work, which, after our trepidation passed, turned into confident joy.

Cook Stove Is Working!

I *love* my cook stove.

Cook Stove Christening!

Later, after enjoying our first hot breakfast EVER on the land, we headed into Appomattox, where we hit the reclaimed, reused jackpot:
  • We found simple, sleek copper cannisters to safely store our flour, sugar, and more
  • We found a neat, modern platter to use for fruit and snack items attractively on the table *or* to serve a beautiful dinner feast on
  • We found a *bunch* of Blue Heaven China, which is my summer china I've collected for years
  • Trivets - metal, to use on the wood cook stove - if you put your pot on top, with the added height that lowers the temperature to turn your pot into a slow cooker!
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Even a baster, unused and still in the original package!
Driving home, the sun began to set and the most gorgeous full moon rose...
a precursor to Sunday's blue moon!

As you may well know, we have journeyed quite a saga, a long quest for heat until we get the solar energy / radiant heat finished... And this saga has (thankfully) happily ended, just in time, for, as my Uncle Fred tells so well over a bonfire: The cold months arrive.

Next: We meet with Jason Dorris and plan the next few weeks of finishing electricity, tracking down the plumber so we can then *finally* close up these walls.

We're also checking out Recycled Resin by Reform for that dividing wall between the middle bedroom and south room. No reason to let any light be blocked off... putting some neat, functional ideas in motion!

We... shall see.

Labels: , , , ,



1,000 Nights of Live Music, at Baine's.

Got this *lovely* story from Baine's Books and Coffee in my inbox this morning...

Although a relatively "new" business for historic, small town Appomattox, Baine's Books and Coffee quickly became a community fixture, where you can walk in, welcomed in the morning light streaming through the windows to discover a new book, curl up near the fireplace with hot coffee, meet a good friend over quiche for lunch, or spend the evening listening to great local music, supported and showcased thanks to the owners' love of great music, great food, great books...

From their newsletter:
1,000 Nights of Live Music!
When Deja Moo strikes the first chord on Friday, November 26 it will be the thousandth time that someone has done so here at Baine's.  It is fitting that Deja Moo be the ones to do it as they played the first chord heard here on October 9, 2004.  That first winter it was just me and Kat behind the bar.  We carried the bookshelves to the back to make room for tables; the shelves didn't have wheels yet. Some guys from the audience hauled in the ancient and very heavy deli case one night, setting it where you see it now.  People donated chairs so they'd have a place to sit.  We'd be packed.  People on the stairs, in the aisles, pouring out onto the street.  People would happen upon us on such a night and kind of cautiously enter, wondering if they were crashing a party.  One woman drove by in her beat up pick up truck three times, each time stoping and staring in.  She finaly came in, walked up to the bar, looked at me with a puzzled look and said "what is this place?"  She soon married the guy playing guitar.  
Tom kept rolls of change in his truck glove box.  If it was a busy night and I was running low, he'd throw me the key and I'd go get quarters or whatever we needed.  After feeding and caffienating 80 to 100  people, we'd just lock the door behind the last person out, turn off the espresso machine and go home, exhausted and greatly satisfied, leaving the trashed store to clean up in the morning.  It has been a thousand in a row.  We have never cancelled.  Not even an open mic.  We've had audiences of a hundred and audiences of one.  If a band cancelled, we called Ken, or Paul, or Pete, or Rick, or Tater.  Or we just played ourselves (Me, Josh, Duane, Kat, Kristin, Justin, Rebecca, Adam).  When the power went out we lit lanterns and wrote IOUs instead of taking money.  We had a Christmas concert in a blizzard with a total of 4 including staff, musician, and audience.  There has been a lot of great music, and a lot of fun.  The finest thing about running this place has been watching people meet and form lasting friendships (and more than a few romances).
Thank you for letting us do this. It has been a blast. 
Thank YOU, Baine's.
As a family we have enjoyed many afternoon hours nibbling scones and poring over new books during weekend visits.  Now that the children are older we can finally haul 'em out for an evening event, and I think it would be great to christen 'em with their first evening concert being Deja Moo, at Baine's.

Labels: ,



A Rushed But Rewarding Weekend

Where to start... I'm exhausted! But good work was done.
Saturday we volunteered for the annual Raise The Roof! party to benefit Children's Home Society.
Every child deserves a home.
And darned if I'm not going to help throw a fabulous party to get that message, and fundraising, achieved.

The event was held at beautiful Rolling Run Farm, with the fantastic bluegrass band Jackass Flats playing.
Here's some pics I took while we were setting up and getting ready for the party:

Sure, the video might be dark, but if you click you can hear some great music, try it!

Jackass Flats!

Here Jackass Flats is warming up, while we were just finished settin' up!

Raise The Roof! with Jackass Flats!

And then the party began.

We awoke the next day and hurried out to the land to meet with Jason Dorris.
Welllllllllll we might have stopped a bit on the way for hot boiled peanuts and a flea market...

Where, upon spying this wash basin, below, I immediately thought of Lloyd Alter's post on "Re-Thinking The Bathroom"...

Whaddya think? Does it not scream Lloyd Alter to you?
I mean, check it out: the wash pitcher, adorned with violets, with even a matching lavender doll?
He could move it in the hallway to wash up from a bike ride, move it to the bedroom at night, get on the bus with it and move it over to his office at Tree Hugger or whatever... a non-electric, off grid, MOBILE WASH STATION!!!!

"I agree with Copeland! Rock on!"
And then we were on the land.

The chimney on the cook stove looks good - in the pictures you see, it seems to jump out as being much more prominent a feature than when you're actually there, in the space. So I took a video:

The Pipe

[Please excuse the messiness, you do realize we're under construction!]

Note: the cook stove is still a bit undone on the exterior, that will soon be buttoned up sleekly.

Now, we are returned, and our children are returned to us from the Grandparents.
I am thinking calming thoughts within the chaos of being back home with children and chickens and dogs flying about everywhere as I type, inspired by this "painting" from the flea market today:


[Note to contractors: Never consider a wood stove for a SIP house or any energy efficient house without doing all your research on air exchange, sealing the fire box, and more. To start, read:]

Labels: , ,



Breaking News: WE HAVE HEAT!!!!!

Anyone who has followed this prefab house kit construction blog knows our saga of heat and long quest for a working, safe for a SIP house, heartfelt and special wood stove.

Breaking News: Just got an email from Jason Dorris:

I will be styling that south room more, maybe painting the pipe silver... I'll see once we put it all together.
But: We. Have. HEAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am still getting used to the difference a chimney makes in the off grid prefab house kit's architectural outline and aesthetics.
Before, the zero energy prefab house kit had a sleek, edgy, coolly aloof look.

With that pipe rising high and proud above the roofline it...
It reminds me of old tin toys, of happiness... there's something overwhelmingly FRIENDLY about it, something reminiscent of Wall - E or... R2D2!!!

Terribly cute, but TERRIBLY important: critical.

P.s. LATER NOTE: A green building friend made a great comment on my Facebook page I'd like to remind everyone - you can't just plop a wood stove / fireplace into an energy efficient house.

I went over this (NOTE: READ THE LINKED ARTICLES) in an earlier post here:

But basically: sealing the fire box, air exchange, and more are critical to successfully implement such a device in a SIP (or any energy efficient) house.

Labels: , , , , , ,



The First Thanksgiving at Virginia's Berkeley Plantation

Holidays are coming up.  We are filled with trepidation.
Why not celebrate Thanksgiving with The H's as the First Thanksgiving celebration was being held at Virginia's Berkeley Plantation?

So we did.

Like our last First Thanksgiving visit to Berkeley Plantation, there was the long, rolling lawn to stroll about while learning history, giggling children chasing each other through the boxwood maze to then climb the stairs to visit historic Berkeley on top of the hill, there was the pointing out the cannon ball embedded into the laundry house wall, then back down to play along the sparkling river at the bottom.

We skipped rocks, walked the arbor, and lounged about the picnic blanket together while the children played within the branches of the willow trees.

There was also a bit o' dancing at Berkeley... Dirty Dancing hadn't been invented yet.

And there was a bit o' dancing at Berkeley...

Our picnic basket was packed with good cheese, gourmet sandwiches, and subtle glasses of sherry.


We celebrated the First Thanksgiving at Berkeley Plantation, where Taps also originated.

Read more about this year's event >>

Afterwards we gathered in The Fan at The H's for a hot dinner of Brunswick Stew, corn bread, and pheasant.
Let the holidays begin.

Labels: ,



More Scoop... On The Poop.

Fishing For More Scoop On The Poop?

I warn you now: This is a long post on septic, off grid systems for our zero energy prefab house kit, composting toilets, and... poop.
Here is a great overview on how composting toilets work and why, theoretically, they can reduce 60% of your water use!
From "Becoming UnMoored:"
"Envirolet estimates that composting toilets reduce household water use by 60%.

In fact, Sun-Mar composting toilets estimate that an average family of four flushes 70 gallons of water down the toilet every day, which is a whopping 25,000 gallons per year. They estimate that based on all the composting toilets they’ve sold in the past, their company alone is saving 6,103 gallons of water every minute."
I mentioned earlier the composting toilet for our off grid zero energy passive solar house kit has a drain pipe to deal with possible (Possible! I thought) run off.

From the beginning, our contractor had been talking about a septic field. But I thought, "There must be a better way, if we're separating out black and grey water. It just doesn't seem efficient, the most functional..."
The easy thing to do would be to just get a frickin' septic field.
But it just bothered me: Why get a septic field when if there's nothing but barely-black water (shower & sink), it most likely won't work properly!

I had some great conversations with the Department of Health, and Heather Barber of Topos, LLC.

Our Off Grid Scenario:
We plumbed separately for gray and black water in our off grid, passive solar, prefab house kit.

For black water:
There is the kitchen sink, and the composting toilet (although the composting toilet model we chose is non-electric and self contained, it does indicate a drain pit for run over, i.e. run over only if it exceeds the unit.

I love to cook.
But we compost, and chickens eliminate scrap waste just as many other urban cities and countries embrace in most areas (hellllllllo, Richmond )… hence our “trash” or “waste” is mostly packaging and bones… We prevent solids from going down the kitchen drain, much less won’t install a garbage disposal. So really, the black water in the kitchen will not be overwhelming grossness (my words, not an engineer’s ; ))…

For gray water:
We intend to pipe the gray water downhill using gravity to a fruit orchard that reuses that gray water for irrigation, using an old method that, using gravity, allows water to soak down and turn slowly through the furrows. I keep turning this scenario about in my head, wondering if zoning’s standard septic solution is really the right way to go with this systems plan.

With the black and gray water separated, what is the current, best functioning, yet affordable solution?

Thanks to many helpful people at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, I was sent to Marcia Degen of the Health Department who listened patiently to my explanation of our own off grid scenario and site.

Ms. Degen had these comments to add to the green building discussion: (Note: I was typing during /after our discussion so not quoting accurately as much as I would like, she was talking faster than my fingers could type, so if I got anything wrong blame me, not her!)
“Well... You’re not going to have much flow. 
I know it sounds odd, but the smallest standard septic field might be the most cost effective, and  efficient solution for you. Keep it as shallow as possible is a good idea.
There’s also peat you could consider, but your flow would be so infrequent it wouldn’t be wet.”
My Coffee Pot.

I agree about the peat, and explained why I avoid peat – although it’s a common additive / alternative system, peat is neither a local nor renewable resource. Our composting toilet came with a bag of peat – yet lists coffee grounds and sawdust as an alternative, which, for our family, is an abundant, and local resource: We're right down the road from an Amish saw mill! 

(Ok, ok, no coffee carbon footprint comments please…but the reality is that yes, I do go through several gallons of brewed coffee a day…how do you think, honeychile, I make all of this happen? #Caffeine) 

We discussed Boxerwood, a great local example of an alternative waste water treatment system using wetlands. (See also their NEWTS rain garden information here:
(And a random fact about Boxerwood: Did you know the founder of Boxerwood was Sally Mann's dad?)

Ms. Degen confirmed my thoughts on such a system for our own site:
“You wouldn’t have enough water to keep a wetland alive. Boxerwood gets a couple of hundred gallons of waste water daily. Because you separated gray out from black water, it would be such a small amount… Have you considered looking into combining it with your downhill gray water irrigation system? 
The end result might be able to be considered your drain field. You would need to see what your loading rates are, compare your sizing and soil and see… A limitation would be that the field must be 12” under the surface…”
I begin thinking of the natural flash runoff (bad!) gulleys created along our road leading through the property, already there when we bought the land, the planned piping of downhill irrigation systems into an orchard, the softness of the field we plan for the orchard to dig accordingly (which hence, percolates)… we might just actually make all of this work together for good!
“…We do allow drip irrigation so this might be possible. Tying in the toilet overflow drain pipe… IF you do it with a peat system you could do it without energy and just gravity OR, with gravity, have a separate small drainfield, which returns the waste water to ground water.”
I called Heather Barber of Topos, LLC to relay the conversation and she got excited. I asked her to explain those orchard trenches further:
"The furrows would be lined with agricultural tile. As the swales (trenches) are filled with water, you don't want it to drain until water is pushed through the trenches. To prevent soaking we line those areas with tile. Once it gets to the agricultural furrows, then it begins to soak as it passes down the furrows and winds its way amidst the trees."
Topos went to work, and came up with this:
"Conceptual plan for grey/black wastewater re-infiltration at Higher Ground:
Quite similar to the sustainable methods of stormwater infiltration systems, this concept uses the notion of gravity flow and groundwater. The wastewater from the residence would flow through a 6-8” sanitary sewer pipe and outfall into an underground trench downhill from the residence. The residence is currently a 2nd home for a family of 4 thus the waste produced is minimal capacity and a traditional septic system might [be] considered overkill. As would this particular site not be the ideal setting for a wetland outfall system, due to the groundwater levels and the depth at which the trench must be created to take advantage of that.
The concept will be built to feed an allee of fruit trees, as this type of wastewater cannot be used directly on the leaves or fruit of an edible garden. Two trenches 48” x 48” x 68ʼ will be dug and backfilled with a larger aggregate, fine particles screened out, leaving the top 12” grade to be capped with earth. The main trench, is on the downhill side of the residence, the higher grade of the row of fruit trees. A 6” perforated pipe will be centered, 18” below finished grade, in the aggregate trench and follow the natural grade of the trench. The second, lower trench will reside at the lower lateral end of the allee and will be constructed is the same manner as the primary trench. This trench is for overflow purposes in the event of a major rain/natural event. The overflow trench will be connected to the primary trench via a 6”-8” sanitary sewer pipe, at the high side of the primary trench.
The system would take advantage of the underground water table, and when the water table is lower, as in a drought situation, the grey/blackwater will be recharged into the ground and used to provide additional water and nutrient to the fruit tree allee. It also falls within the EPAʼs Title 5 septic treatment guidelines for I/A Technology. 
Similar examples and guidelines include the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) that falls within the EPA Clean Water Act, has a great example of residential use in Santa Barbara, the EcoHouse in Berkeley, the Harned residence in Idaho designed by Whole Water Systems
Most municipalities have publications that highlight the benefits of using sub-surface infiltration basins, and many companies now manufacture tree well infiltration basins that serve a dual purpose."
Oh, the drama of poop!
Here's some recent articles for Virginia:
FYI, back to composting toilets, here's some items I found very interesting: 
  • Make sure you read Sherman Johnson's comment on the first article I mentioned, "Composting Toilets: All You Ever Wanted To Know," if you are considering installing a composting toilet on your property. In my experience his points are accurate.
  • Here are some favorable and not favorable reviews on a composting toilet page that is a MUST READ: (Keep an open mind and you will get an education!)
    From "The Poop Report": Drawn from extensive comments the article created:

    • I am noting the comment from Tiva, especially regarding dry & wet:
      "...The unit needs to be emptied frequently, and because it's a continuous composter, you always get fresh, uncomposted poop mixed in with the stuff you're trying to get rid of. ... The rake bar usually gets stuck, so you can't use the nifty emptying tray, and instead you need to empty the unit with a trowel, mixing fresh poop in with your composted poop. I have a PhD in ecology, and I've been composting out in the garden for 20 years. But I still find this toilet incredibly fussy. Either it gets too dry, and the poop turns into rocks and stops composting, or else it gets too wet, and turns anaerobic. Toilet paper doesn't break down. On and on. Don't get me wrong--I'm all for composting toilets. But get a remote model! And get a batch model, so that your poop can compost separately before you empty the unit. Continuous, compact models don't work." Oy!
    • From poopmachineowner:
      " I searched this site out to rant about my frustration regarding the Envirolet remote low water composting system I own. Besides of venting my exasparation, I learned a whole lot from this site. The Humanure Handbook was very helpful understanding the composting process.What I learned from it led me to start using my envirolet system differently, and I must say, with success. It is a valuable reading, and I am not going to go into details, but what I found was that the Envirolet instructions (rather casually) mentions to add a quarter of a cup of peat moss (the carbon part of the composting) per person per day to the composter. It is way too inadaquate for the composting to occur.

      Now, The Humanure Handbook is not very practical regarding the exact quantity of carbon (wood shavings, etc) to be added, so I started to add 3 palmful of sawdust per day. Voila,the smell is gone, and after 5 weeks a lot of composting has happened.
       How do I know? Because the composter is filling up at an alarming rate, so today I had to empty it. With the one inch drain line and the sawdust the fluid buildup is not there any more. So, now it seems the composting is happening, but the unit is not large enough to process the whole load, before it has to be emptied. And I am alone in this house...Peat moss doesn't do the job, maybe we produce a different set of bacteria here.... I guess now I have to start reducing the carbon somewhat, and see the results. Summerising, I still do not think very highly about Envirolet, one shouldn't have to go through all that frustrations after doling out $2000, and having to experiment with poop for years to come. In the age of microprocessors I would imagine some company will come up with a smart composter, monitoring the conditions, add the necessary carbon, etc. maybe even empty into a separate container,and test their product extensively, before market it with a permanent Sale offer."
    • Poopin Terry is talking about a Biolet, but I found this informative:
      "When using this toilet, the most important factor is the temperature setting. If it is too low, there will be liquid build up and odor. You can also pop the shear pin off as the stirring arm can't move through the heavy wet compost. If it is too high, the material will dry out before it can break down. In the early months I even added a bit of water now and then as I played with the heat settings. The best way to find the mark is to set it a bit low until you see liquid show up in the tube on the side, then increase one point each day until the liquid disappears. that should be the right spot. "

      I will be bringing a spray bottle with water out to check out this poop situation more closely.
    • From MaineGirl: "One of the more interesting aspects of the set-up this year was using silicon caulking around the middle seam of the unit. The fans were running when we started putting the goo on, and when the caulking reached all the way around the unit to close the loop, the fans started making a different pitched hum-- we're hoping it's actually air-tight now in the box, and the only air into the system comes from the down draft through the toilet. We'll see... I'm not expecting miracles, but it would be nice if the unit didn't ooze out ickiness."

      "...So, again, we're giving the Envirolet another try-- I put hay in the bottom instead of the ridiculous tissue paper that the company recommends, and I'm going to increase the peat/person ratio. I guess we'll let you know how it goes after the Fourth of July Weekend."
    • From Pavel Up North:
      "...2. the raking bar must be vigorously agitated every day for a couple of minutes. (Copeland's note: I do this, I assume you mean the top *aerating* bar though!) The bars are not very effective and will not work at all if the compost dries out - becomes like concrete, requiring full disassembly of the unit (top removed not just the front hatch opened) so that it can be upturned and the 'stones' pried out. (Copeland's note: Boy will I be keeping vigilant on this!) 3. any build up of toilet paper around the sides of the 'mass' must be removed weekly. I use a 3 foot "grabber' with pistol grip control 4 Lots and lots of peat moss, sawdust/chips should be added. Make sure the toilet paper is designed for composting not flushing. 5 A spray bottle with Simple Green Cleaner (pH about 9.5) should be liberally used. This cleans the bowl/trap door and partially neutralises the acidic pee. ... 7 Clearly the unit only works properly when an equilibrium is established involving moisture, pH, amount of poop, carbon (paper/peat etc.) and temperature."
    • Chris in TN : "I have an Envirolet low water remote system with two sealand toilets connected. It has worked just fine over the four or five years I have had it. You do have to replace the fans and heaters every few years if you run them as much as I do."
    • Again from MaineGirl: "...someone who has an Envirolet and has has retrofitted it to work as best it can. Here's a link:"
Copeland's note: I appreciate Tiva and MaineGirl in this thread. These gals are INDUSTRIOUS and determined, and keep coming back and reporting, year after year. They would SO be invited to my Girls Nite if they lived near. ***Make sure you scroll alllllllllll the way down to the bottom of the page to see what Tiva does in the end. Not that I recommend doing that. But she's determined! ***

On my end I will be taking a fresh look at composition, temperature, making sure no upper masses harden.  What also interests me are the comments on toilet paper, maybe I will ask people to instead dispose of toilet paper into a trash can if it becomes an issue.

Read on HUMANURE and its history here:

If composting toilets interest you, don't you DARE leave this blog post without perusing The Humanure Handbook
Of course I knew about The Humanure Handbook when researching composting toilets, but I wish I had read it before making the composting toilet purchase three years ago, with a then-3 and then-5 year old whining and pulling on me, not able to read the fine print, when trying to find a point-and-click "easy solution" (AND, Handsome Husband's Christmas Present! Yes, this was his Christmas present three years ago. Got him back for that year he gave me car parts, eh?) for our off grid house.

This is NOT to say our composting toilet experience is bad. I am looking forward to the next years. But it is clear a purchaser needs education, and that these "click and buy" toilet websites approach it as "Buy the toilet today, and it's your responsibility to know all this down the road."  

Even my composting starter mix, which arrived today, "free" thanks to a tweet about toilets a few weeks ago, arrived with a bag, a paper mat, and no instructions! I understand (and practice) Save-A-Tree-Don't-Print-A-Bunch-Of-Paper-But-Keep-Info-On-The-Internet.  But you would think they'd at least print, "Go here for instructions - http://(WherePeopleCanReadInstructionsOnTheToilet)" on the soil packaging!

To be fair, Envirolet has done a great job creating short, easy to see and understand videos.
Here's one in particular I'll be using very soon: 

Here's one I *wish* Handsome Husband had seen, or at least read the manual (I did!) before curiously pulling the rake bar, not the aerator:

And don't fergit to finish correctly whatchoo start:

Regardless of the system, it is clear composting toilets have real issues that need to be addressed / users need to be educated in, preferably before the purchase.  More informed purchasers make happier customers. It's clear composition, mixture, aeration, and temperature are critical to a successful experience!  

So, out of curiosity, NEXT WEEKEND?
I'mma gonna empty our composting toilet and get up close and personal-like with the scoop... on the poop. Or... maybe I won't. WE'LL SEE.

And I see a possible second composting outdoor bin in our future... we... shall... see.
More on rudimentary composting here

Here's another gem I picked up from reading these forums and web sites: 
Until now, at Higher Ground, I have been guiltily discarding the few kitchen scraps I incur while there. (To prevent such waste, I was making the food in Richmond, giving our chickens there the scraps as usual. But every time I cut a vegetable but don't want to throw it outside in case it somehow attracts wildlife for the wrong reasons, I feel horrible - literally, throwing that in a trash can, even for safety's sake, is a WASTE!)

From EnviroletBuzz:
The composting toilet possesses the ability to recycle much of your household waste. Food scraps, paper, lawn clippings and grease from you grease traps and greywater systems can be composted back through the toilet. If you choose to put in a reed bed greywater systems, the annual clippings can also be composted. There is no wastage in this system."

Wow. So from now on, those vegetable scraps get tossed into the toilet until we live there permanently and have chickens. Try doing that in your average toilet!!!

And with that, I'm off to bed.
I can't believe I just spent my Friday night researching composting toilets more and writing about poop!

Labels: , , , , , ,


Newer Prefab House Posts         Older Prefab House Kit Posts