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Alternative greywater systems

 
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Hello!
I am interested in purchasing a property that currently has a small cabin equipped with composting toilet, electric, and no water supply. The cabin is at the very bottom of the property, in an "official" floodplain (I don't think it has ever actually flooded) but a small—midsize stream runs behind it. There is a roughly flat half-acre on which the cabin sits, abutting the stream—the property then crosses a bridge and ascends up a hill, mostly wooded. My ultimate intention would be to build up on the hill, but in the indefinite interim, I would be trying to live in the bottom cabin.

Basically, I'm trying to think about how to create a functional water system in this lower cabin. There is a septic permit for the property, but the system is permitted far up the hill, with the expectation it would be used if someone built up on the hill. Installing a septic immediately and pumping greywater up to it does not really make sense to me. Ultimately, it would probably make sense to drill a well farther up the hill (aside from the aforementioned stream, there is no spring I know of)—but drilling a well immediately up there and letting water come down to the cabin also seems difficult, given that 1) I would need power for the well higher up 2) it's a long distance, several hundred feet at least from the proposed well site to this lower cabin and 3) the water line would need to cross a stream, which might be difficult(?).

Drilling another well on the bottom of the property, adjacent to the cabin, might not be cost-effective if I ultimately wanted to put a well farther up. Besides, I'm not sure, but I feel like putting a well in a floodplain next to a stream might have more potential for contaminants?

Obviously, none of what I've outlined even really touches on the greywater issue.

Apologies for the long post, but if you've made it this far, and have interest in alternative water systems, would love some input. I'm guessing some kind of rainwater catchment system might be useful, but I literally know nothing about them. I almost bought a property once that was semi-offgrid and had composting toilet and no grey water system, literally just a house draining water away from the house. I don't use anything non-biodegradable so feel like this would be safe enough—but also I'm concerned would be problematic so close to a stream.

Anyway, any input appreciated.  Please let me know if you need clarification about the contours of the property.
 
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Two questions come to mind quickly. What is the climate....especially in the winter?  What is the soil like.  ..rocky, sand, clay?
 
John F Dean
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Reading your post again, another question comes up.  You say there is a septic permit.  Is a greywater permit possible in your area?  Is a greywater permit needed?
 
pollinator
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I agree with you that a dug or shallow well near a stream in a flood plain carries the possibility of contamination.  If a well is drilled very deep, the water you're getting from it is from the aquifer, far below the ground.  The drilling company should be a good source of information on this.  If you drill near the cabin, eventually the water will have to be pumped up the hill.  If you drill up the hill, you'll need power for the pump, as you point out, and a pipe to carry the water down.

I once had a house where the spring was across the road, across the stream, and up the hill.  (!)  Yes, the property had been subdivided.  The water line crossed the road at the bridge.  It was attached to the bottom of the bridge.  We had a faucet inside that drained outside somewhere, and it was necessary to keep it running all winter.  This was in Vermont, USDA zone 4, back in the day when winters were very cold!  I shake my head imagining that setup today, but someone is still living there and runs an AirBNB in the house!

I can see why the property is designated a flood plain - it's at the bottom of a hill, it has a stream, and it is flat below.  Recipe for a flood in spring runoff or a big weather event.  But as John points out, the climate where you are (and the type of soil - sandy, clay, loam) and other factors play a part.

Tell us more!  Looking forward to reading the discussion.
 
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It sounds like the cabin has been grandfathering into the system, so you can continue use it as is.

Drinking Water Solution
Build a well up the hill, then get another permit to bring the water under the state road and then fix the road.
Build a shallow well filled with "bacteria filled stream water' and then buy a new set of filters every 6 months, and a UV/ozone sterilizer
Truck in Water and store in a Tank/Bottle.

Waste Water Solution
Build a drain-field up the hill, then get another permit to bring the sewage under the state road and then fix the road.
Build a grey water drainfield no permit needed, maybe stick it in a greenhouse like the current kickstarter. And maybe use an upgraded composting toilet with a heater and a fan.
Like a RV, truck out the waste very often.
 
Will Solol
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Thank you all for your comments. First, let me clarify:  the stream I'm talking about is on the property. There is a bridge traversing it, also on the property. So no state road involved. Then the property ascends up a hill; partway up, a perc test was done 13 years ago and it was permitted for a septic.

The bottom of the property (where the cabin is) is about a half-acre flat and abuts a stream and two public roads. I don't know the soil type on this lower portion. I believe this is the site, and it won't load:  https://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/   My guess is it's more sandy, being in a floodplain, but I don't know. Just growing grass now, and a few trees (a couple birch I think, and a large pine? Not sure, I only visited twice).

This is in Vermont. Officially, I believe, you need a septic system for full-time living. No greywater permits, I believe. However, I get the sense that a lot of people don't do this in practice, and from the town I understand that they're willing to be reasonable provided I have a reliable water supply and sanitary way of dealing with any greywater. The cabin has NOT been grandfathered in any way.

So it's two questions in practice:  setting up a water supply, and managing greywater. S Bengi, what do you mean by:  "Build a grey water drainfield no permit needed, maybe stick it in a greenhouse like the current kickstarter."

Thanks again!
 
Anne Pratt
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Yay Vermont!

Some jurisdictions in Vermont do have greywater permitting; there was another thread around here where the possibilities were being tossed around.  I'll see if I can find it.  A 13-year-old perc test might not be adequate. Vermont has extremely strict and specific septic regulations.  You'll want to talk to the building inspector.   You can start with the Planning Commission or the town clerk, to find the appropriate resources.

edit:  I found the thread, and I found the documents!

Do I need a permit?  wastewater/Vermont

Here's a website that addresses some of the issues:  Vermont septic system laws

Another state website:  Wastewater Systems - VT Dept of Environmental Conservation

I live in Windsor County, just a bit south of Woodstock and west of Mt. Ascutney.  There is a lot of variation on what different towns require regarding building, but the state regulates septic systems, strictly, as I said.

Happy researching!





 
 
John F Dean
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Anne pretty well nailed where I was coming from. Many states and counties  have different requirements for grey water.  My house has two different systems.  The basement floor drains and washer goes to one system, and everything else goes to another. Both systems are legal.
 
Will Solol
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Anne—I know that area pretty well, where I'm looking isn't far.

My understanding for the last ~2 years is that state of VT requires all full-time residences (not on municipal sewer) to have a septic system, since 2007. My understanding is that this is the ONLY official option for greywater, unless you've been grandfathered in. Is your experience different?

In practice, I recognize loads of people don't have this, and enforcement is generally up to the town——in this town, I've gotten the impression that if it's a sanitary, orderly system that works they'll allow it.

For all still reading this (and I appreciate the input!) I received this information from the seller today:  "I, at one point, had a small reverse osmosis system with a small pressure/storage tank which could draw water from the brook via a hose and pump if needed.  I had also looked into digging a small well or spring.  It seems realistic that a 6-8 foot deep "Spring House" would do the trick.  And that would be deep enough that, once enclosed, shouldn't freeze." Aside from rainwater, these were pretty much the other options I was thinking about. But like rainwater, have little experience with drawing water from a stream with any RO filter (and how would that work in winter?) or a spring house and shallow well, though the latter seems simpler.

If anybody can recommend any good resources, that's appreciated.

 
Anne Pratt
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I can't find the reference to some localities allowing special greywater discharge with a greywater system.  I'm still looking.

I see the link above for the "Do I Need a Permit" document doesn't work.  I'm attaching the document.  And the regulations for wastewater and groundwater protection.

I'm not any kind of an expert, just a Vermonter who has had a husband who was a builder, and now has a partner who is a builder.  Oh, and there was the town planner, when I was just out of college!  Anyhow, enough of that nonsense.  I'm also an avid internet researcher and observer of Vermont politics and processes.

Regarding what the seller said to you, I have no idea what "digging a spring" would be.  One can dig out an existing spring.  But digging for water that isn't already apparent is digging a well.  There are hand-dug wells; they generally require treatment to address bacterial contamination.  Don't feel bad, though.  Our very deep well required treatment for radon, radium, and other deep-well issues.  The granite below us often has tiny flecks of radium in it, causing these kinds of contamination.  Nuclear water!  It's not so dangerous to drink, but dangerous to shower in year after year.

A word of advice from someone who has owned a number of homes (plus those town planner and builder partners!) - don't rely on what you "hear."  Go to the town office or the regional planning commission, find out who will be in charge of the decisions, and either consult extensively, or ask that person (especially if it's the town zoning administrator) to come out to the property with you and talk about what's needed.  Press them for an unambiguous answer.  So many people have bought property, asked somebody who gave them an answer, and then discovered too late that what they wanted to do, and could afford to do, was impossible.  Really.

Wish I could be more helpful!  If it were me, I would prefer to buy land with water & septic (or at least septic permit) already in place, and build the cabin.  So many unknowns in finding water, and such huge potential costs.  

Filename: doineedapermit.15.10.09(2).pdf
Description: Do I Need a Permit?
File size: 253 Kbytes
Filename: Wastewater-System-and-Potable-Water-Supply-Rules-April-12-2019.pdf
Description: Wastewater System and Potable Water Supply Rules
File size: 4 megabytes
 
S Bengi
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I second the Reverse Osmosis with 5 pre-filter drinking water system, with a pump in a small 10ft shallow well. With a Reverse Osmosis system you don't have to worry about the brook being polluted or turning brown during a flood, because it is always filtered for virus, microbes, chemicals and sand/grit.  And with a 6ft-10ft deep well, you don't about the cold freezing and breaking the pipes. You can make your own sandpoint with just a pump+pipe and the brook water, super cheap7

Greywater Greenhouse.
You could create a greenhouse with a super insulated north wall (and east and roof, and possible floor) with only the sunlit south and western walls allowing sunlight.
One could then send the grey water thru an initial filter and then use the grey water to grow plants extracting the excessive nutrients and the plant roots can grow good microbes vs e-coli and other bad microbes.
The now clean water can then be sent to a water a outside garden, to a toilet, or outside mulch pit, etc. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/paulwheaton/greenhouse-1

For the waste management system
I like this system, SOLOLIFT2 CWC-3 https://www.grundfos.com/products/find-product/sololift20.html
You can connect your toilet, plus kitchen sink, shower, and basin to it. And it will lift it up the hill to your drain field. As usual it needs to be under the frost line as it travels uphill to your drainfield.
There are septic system that doesn't require a drainfield, such as the HOOT aerobic system, it does use more electricity though for aeration, "denitification" and ozone for sterilization
                 
 
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Will Solol wrote: S Bengi, what do you mean by:  "Build a grey water drainfield no permit needed, maybe stick it in a greenhouse like the current kickstarter."

Not to put words in his mouth, but I believe that S Bengi was referring to responsibly doing your own grey water system without referencing to Big Daddy for permission first. Paralegal grey water systems exist all over America, including ours while we lived in that place which we consider a hellhole, and if everything is biofiltered, (cattails, cottonwoods, and willows are wonderful for that) biodegradable, and the soil is full of life, a piece of paper from the government is completely irrelevant. If you do get a permit, you’re putting yourself on a list of people who have grey water systems, and if they illegalize it later, they’re coming for you first. Those are my rationale on the topic.
 
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