House for 3 in 320 square feet

And we’re back in the States! Boy, it felt like a year since I left, but it’s only been a short while. The apartment wasn’t on fire, and this time, there were no earthquakes.

There’s a whole bunch of stuff to catch up to and post, but until I unwind a bit, take a gander at a video I found in my inbox. I.E. Back to my ultimate goal.

Site of the Week: Permies

If sustainable living and environmental consciousness is in your thoughts these days, then you can’t miss the people who’ve been practicing what they’ve preached for ages.

Permies: goofballs that are nuts about permaculture

Permies is a site, a community and blog dedicated to permaculture. That is sustainability in its purest form without anything that will lead to collapse in lifestyle years, decades or even centuries ahead. The premise is to perserve the enviornment in a way that allows reasonable comfort in living without sacrificing the planet even in the short term.

Created by Paul Wheaton, also known as the “Permaculture guy”, Permies describes helpful methods of living off the land in a responsible way including bulding and maintaining a greenhouse, building with recyled materials and experiences of people who’re doing it all.

TINY: A story about living small

From the description :

TINY is a forthcoming documentary film by Merete Mueller and Christopher Smith, about one man’s attempt to live small by building a tiny house. It is a meditation on place, simplicity, and what it means to create a home.

For more information about TINY, visit http://www.tiny-themovie.com Friend us on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/tinythemovie Follow Christopher on twitter: @Christopher_C_S

Featuring additional videography by Kevin Hoth.

You can also read more about the project on their website.

Farewell Planet Green

I used to watch this channel since before they started showing Living with Ed (which used to be on HGTV), one of my favorites. The appeal of Living with Ed was of course Ed Begley Jr. himself (but not Rachelle Carson who I found annoying) and his quirky personality, simple nature and of course, his pursuit of sustainable living and environmentally friendly alternatives to everyday things.

It was an old High School friend that turned me on to Planet Green which lead me to my goal of sustainable living, which in turn made me think of living in a cabin one day. I’ve made changes in my lifestyle that I initially thought was pointless and/or impractical, but over time, just by living through the changes I’ve realized I’ve been wrong.

I also enjoyed watching all the radical homes they used to show (including a truly marvelous tree house… and I do mean a “house” built onto trees acting as stilts) and very practical ideas like growing trees that shed their leaves in the winter on the South side of the structure. Why? Because when the leaves shed in the colder months, it allows more sunlight to hit the structure, heating it up naturally and reducing the demand on heating power. When the leaves grow back in the warmer months, it’s the opposite effect by providing natural shade and reducing the demand for AC.

Thanks to Planet Green, I learned about alternatives like Foam Core Structural Panels, the resurgence of Post and Lintel with composite beams, solar panels that look just like roofing tile or shingles. Planet Green showed me things like small, quiet, wind generators that don’t produce annoying noises or are harmful to birds, affordable solar panels and taught me the difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline ones. For the record, the former is better in terms of output per sq/foot than the latter and is much lighter.

Planet Green showed me that you can actually have water features in your yard that can dramatically reduce the ambient heat in your home by pumping the air through coils under the water (similar to a geo-thermal setup). I learned about tankless water heaters and how they can dramatically reduce the amount of energy your house uses.

I’ve made a lot of the choices I have thanks to the network.

Every light in my apartment is CFL (carried over from my old place) since I moved in. The only reason I didn’t go with LEDs was because of the initial cost and I’ve spent a lot on renovations. The flooring here doesn’t use harsh chemicals or produce off-gas. Even the new paint was environmentally friendly and my AC is also Energy Star compliant. And all of these options were brought to my attention thanks to Planet Green because before then, I had no clue about being environmentally friendly, other than tossing the aluminum, paper and glass into the recyclable bin.

The building I live in collect recyclable stuff separately in the trash room and, believe it or not, that even more than the location was one of the big reasons for choosing the apartment.

Planet Green used to be the go-to place for anything environment related and sustainable living and I’ve learned a lot.

Well, no more

It started going downhill pretty fast when shows like Living with Ed stopped airing (at least as far as I can see) and  shows like the G Word was on at 3 and 4 in the morning.

Within a year or so, daytime Planet Green became all but unwatchable.

I can’t really blame this on Discovery execs, though I’m sure a lot of them made mistakes. But let’s be honest, every network survives on ratings. If ratings for lifestyles in green living don’t draw the crowds, I guess freak shows will do as a desperate measure.

Now we’re faced with “Paranormal” Fridays? We went from sustainable and green living to Big Foot and UFOs. A pretty hard fall from grace.

If there is a silver lining to this, it’s that the Internet doesn’t survive so much on ratings as it does on visits. It doesn’t matter if you tune in to chime in or to admire or mock, it’s a lot easier to get attention and as long as someone is paying attention, content will continue to grow.

What the network left behind will be sorely missed, though. At least by me.

The flu is still on and my Benadryl is starting to wear off… Time for another dose and it’s off to bed.

You and Your Poo

I’ll try to put this as delicately as I can so as to not offend people’s sensibilities. Ahem…

I posted about this before, but it keeps coming up over and over when tiny/small houses and sustainable living are mentioned and I think there are a lot of misconceptions on the topic of sewage management. Some people have no qualms about using composting toilets and others have the “poo? Ew! I’m not touching that stuff” reaction. Well, technically, you were touching it all the way up until it… oh right, “delicacy” *cough*.

The gist of composting human waste

Waste is easier to manage when separated into solids and liquids.

Urine is actually quite easy to dispose of in that after collection and in fact can be directly released onto the roots of any ol’ tree (with some water added to dilute it so as to not overwhelm the root system if you keep to the same tree) since it’s rather sterile to begin with.

No, seriously (via Inhabitat)

Many urine disposal systems for composting toilets follow a very similar setup to the typical septic system in that it is contained, diverted and released into the drain field. The containment is very small, because the system is only designed to handle urine and possibly gray water (from your shower or faucet).

As with regular septic systems, oils and grease are your enemy as they don’t decompose and just float to the top of the tank clogging the system if not suctioned out periodically. This follows the standard maintenance regimen of all septic systems.

More simple urine disposal systems involve a jug and a trip to the yard, but then there is a brief smell during the disposal. This dissipates rather quickly and you never need to worry about releasing to the same location overwhelming the vegetation. Most people tend to avoid this so as to not deal with “handling” or venturing out during a blizzard.

Solid waste needs a bit more attention.

Composting Poo

This is really no different from leaf or other organic composting although you would need to keep the two separate since human waste needs more care before it can be used or handled. You can safely drop toilet paper in there as well and, best of all, not worry about clogging no matter how much of it you use since no water is used.

The key here, that it requires the action of aerobic bacteria which will rapidly decompose the waste vs the typical septic system which uses anaerobic bacteria and is far slower. The action of aerobic bacteria is odorless when implemented correctly and the end result can be used on your garden.

Once you go potty (and used a separate line for liquids), you would need to put a layer of sawdust or similar wood powder over the refuse so as to prevent odors from escaping and to provide a bed for the bacteria that’s going to work on it. More complex systems have automatic collection and aeration with a vent system that draws air over the refuse and out the vent, but these are expensive and tend to collect urine in the same container, prolonging the composting process.

The trick to getting this right is to make sure that it’s dry. Dry poo is easier to manage and doesn’t smell.

For this substance to go from poo to compost, it needs to be exposed to the bacteria for some time, the length of which will depend on how many people use the toilet and how often. A lot of DIY solutions involve a bucket, a small hand shovel with a bag of sawdust on the side… and that’s about it.

For something a little more advanced, I propose the use of a tilted 55 gallon barrel on rollers underneath the toilet floor which can be periodically turned manually or automatically by a motor.

Think of it as being similar to cement mixer. The barrel and the bottom of the toilet (the opening) can be enclosed with a 2 x 4 wall, which would create a tiny “compost room” with a door. This room can then be aerated by roof vent and possibly a small fan. The system can be setup similar to traditional bathroom venting system, except instead of the bathroom being vented, it’s the “compost room” with the barrel which would also draw air through the toilet opening preventing any odors from coming back into the dwelling.

Like this, but with a tilted barrel on rollers (via Oikos)

By venting the “compost room” by fan, you may also be able to avoid placing a separate vent in the bathroom, since any moisture will be drawn into the “compost room” below and out the vent. But you would need to run this by the building inspector first.

Of course, this won’t be practical on existing structures unless you have access to a crawl space or, preferably, a proper basement and there’s nothing in the way below.

As with other composting solutions, this would require manual emptying from time to time of the bucket/barrel, but the good news is that once the composting process is under way, you’re dealing with odorless semi-composted waste and not just poo. You would still need to use gloves until everything is properly composted, but once it has, it’s just fertilizer.

Why would you even bother?

A full bath and a toilet flush are the biggest water wasters.

Even if you can justify a full bath for the emotional gratification, think about what happens when you flush an ordinary toilet. You’re just pouring water down the drain! There’s just no justification for it.

Even high-efficiency flush systems basically do the same thing so imagine what you could do with all that water instead (take a bath! LOL).

Besides that, there’s no guarantee just how much water we’ll have access to in the future. Our aquifers are being used at an ever-increasing rate and they aren’t being replenished nearly fast enough to keep up with demand. With a system like a composting toilet, you can tap into not just rain water, which will eventually end up in the aquifer after you’re done with it anyway, but also well water if you have access to a well without worrying too much even during a drought.

Rain water collection is the next best thing to a well in terms of water recycling and if the treatment and filtration are done right, you can truly save the well for real emergencies.

A composting toilet will go a long way to ensure you will have a safe and sanitary life in your dwelling without impacting our water resources as much.