Its time to talk about, The good, the bad and the ugly !
Step aside Clint Eastwood, ” This toilet ain’t big enough for the two of us”. Off grid septic solutions is an important topic and one that is just as important as the roof over our heads. In this article we will be exploring the facts.
Treatment and management of our waste or ‘ Black Water ‘ sewerage is not only necessary but essential for any type of living.
When living off grid, or in the process to be, this service is one that offers another tailored solution and is probably of more importance to the ‘ ‘homesteader’ than our ‘septic provided’ service dependent neighbours.
Good news for you, is the fact that these choices or options you have for your septic system, are actually very simple and shouldn’t be a confusing or an overwhelming experience, influenced with big words, complex plans, diagrams and local authority standards.
The types of septic options all have the same thing in common. They all just serve a simple purpose with different methods, designs and results.
It’s definitely not ” rocket science ” as some information may suggest. It is something that will not cost you an ‘arm and a leg’ ! I would like to take the weight of your shoulders in regard to this. Septic solutions are easy, affordable and life changing.
Once again, sit back, grab your favourite drink and we will talk about which type of ‘off grid’ septic solution is right for you. Now lets get to the ‘bottom’ of this ! ( Sorry, I couldn’t help it !)
THE TYPES OF ” OFF GRID SEPTIC SOLUTIONS “
There are basically ‘3‘ types of septic systems. They are well proven to be effective, maintainable and sustainable.
1. Pit or ‘Long drop’
2. Septic tank
3. Dry or Composting toilet
These systems can be broken down into further categories or ‘sub-systems’ that have evolved with current advances in septic technology, However, the means of this article, is to provide clear and undistracted information that aids in the decision and choice through education, on which septic solution is relevant to you and your family.
So lets ‘wipe’ away the myths and explore these systems!
1. PIT or ‘ LONG-DROP ‘
- A Pit or Long drop toilet is basically a water less toilet, that involves having a safe toilet design or ‘seat’ that perches above a receptacle or an excavation in the ground, a hole or ‘pit’.’ As the word “Long drop” paints a scary image in our minds ! it should be remembered, that this method, was one of our only ways to deal with this issue. The system is of design and functionality and is still used today by many people.
The ‘Pit’ or ‘Long drop’ system, retains ( depending on soil type and value ) the majority of our hazardous waste, both solid and liquid. In the future, it is to be back filled with preferably the original excavated earth mass, and toilet site relocated when the cavity has reached its full or recommended capacity.
The time to back fill is within a certain depth, and it is what I call the ‘point of no return’ ! ( usually at the 1/2 full level of waste in the pit ) This general rule applies to all holes, pits or voids no mater the scale or size, after which the site is to be relocated.
Relocation is also governed by the integrity of the pit itself, as a result of use. It is a design which can be built by yourself or with the engagement of service providers, which will aid in excavation and toilet outhouse structure, to ensure practicality, efficiency and meet basic safety requirements.
Another method within ‘Pit’ or ‘Long drop’ toilets is the ” vessel ” method. Quite simply, in substitute for a pit or void in the ground to deposit into, is the use of a vessel or container.
In this, I am pointing to a 20 litre bucket that has replacement buckets and lids that can be used under a toilet seat point, to effectively contain waste in a safe and sanitary method. Once buckets or vessels are full, they can be responsibly re-entered back into the ground via a hole or suitable void.
Back ‘in the day’ It was a job I struggled with and just couldn’t seem to overcome! My stomach muscles at the time were not created from exercise or hard work, but more so from a result of gagging under offensive sights and smells !
As with most potential solutions, there are a few considerations to think about when employing this particular method.
Pit or ‘Long drop’ toilets – Considerations
Land size, Homestead size ( waste volume ), Soil type ( Porosity of earth ), Proximity or relative distance from sensitive or quality waterways, neighboring titles, affordability, practicality and general awareness of responsibility and outcome.
Not only does good judgment provide direction but also, sound advice may be necessary for those who are doubtful or needing it.
In this I hope to provide your answers and give you the ability to connect with me for answers to your questions or concerns.
‘ Good news here, is the fact that this is one of the best ways to control your sewerage or ‘ black water’ especially if your homestead resides on good acreage ‘
2. Site Type
This type of method is more suitable to those home sites or homesteads which are located on a slope or degree of terranial pitch. Due to the effects of natural gravity, the direction of safe effluent leaching or overflow can be controlled to a certain point of reason.
3. Local Municipal or State Authority Regulations
As not all home-owners are free to choose from all 3 types of septic solutions due to local authority standards, it may pose a limitation with choice of system. Running a ‘Pit ‘ system like this with close neighbors in proximity is of concern also, not only to them but to yourself for obvious reasons.
Always consider your choices and how they may impact on others. You will not be a popular neighbor, if your septic overflow points in the direction of your neighbours dam which contains and provides quality water for their lifestyle and homestead for example.
Always put yourself in your neighbors shoes for a moment when making choices on septic solutions and long term black water decisions.
4. Pit or ‘Long drop’ toilets …..smell !
This is an unavoidable backlash with using this system. The problem can be ‘made better’ or combated with the use of dry material being placed down on top of your waste level every use or so, using dry mulch, leaf litter, bark, wood chip or saw dust is an excellent product to use for this.
This material can be sourced freely or of a very low cost depending on your resources, financial ability and initiative. The downside to this is not only actually sourcing this material, but also the fact that it does add to the pit volume or storage capacity being consumed quicker.
5. They use no water !
This system uses no water whatsoever, and is an ideal temporary solution, which will not require or impede on your accessible water supply, when first living or building on your property.
6. Impact on environment
Obviously, when considering viable and suitable options for your septic solution, consideration always applies to the environment. As mentioned above, your neighbours are a part of your environment as well. Depending on your soil type, especially if it is mainly of rock or large stone subsoil, this method will have limits. The ability for direct and potent effluent to be filtered effectively and naturally back into the earth will be hindered.
Subterranean porous soils aid in the process of effluent filtration and safe release back into the earth. Unfiltered waste traversing through separation in dense rock ( fissures or voids ), into further lower points of either sub level quality water systems or above ground aquatics will be compromised and spoiled.
These aquatic sanctuaries, such as creeks, springs and waterways not only support diverse habitats for biology and ecological balance, but also may include places where not only you or your family frequent, but also others. Keep it clean. You will be rewarded for your diligence and responsibility.
7. Both “Pit” and ‘ long drop’ toilets attract insects, namely flies
To keep insects and flies at a minimum, use layers of porous material as previously suggested, like bark, leaf litter mulch or saw dust fibres on top of your ‘ current layer ‘ in pit or vessel.
This not only absorbs the top layer of exposed waste but also knocks down the smell and in doing so the attraction to flies and insects is reduced.
In summer this can be quite an unpleasant reality and this method is proven to work quite well. Cooler periods of the year are ‘fly free’ but warmer periods host absolute infestations ( especially here in Australia ). Obviously, this is partial to your geographical location as well.
I have purposely left this consideration at this position in an attempt to help plant a seed in every ones memory.
This consideration is a big one for me and especially in regard to children. Pit or ‘ long drop’ toilets can be serious physical traps. They are essentially cavities within the ground which contain extreme hazard and threat to life.
There are cases of children falling or accidentally slipping into these pits through either the negligence of supervision or inadequately secured “Pit” style outhouses. Sadly, sometimes both are the case.
“If you use, or are in the process to use a ‘pit’ or ‘long drop’ toilet, please treat it with the seriousness of what you would a swimming pool, in regard to yours or others children safety”.
In conclusion, this method is very simple and gets the job done. It is cheap to install and a world better than nothing at all.
It is suited to temporary solutions. It is more of an interim fix than a long term solution, and for that reason I recommend this method for initial set up and applicable to whilst building, or in the process of awaiting a more suitable and appropriate septic service only, with the considerations of safety and health foremost.
2. SEPTIC TANKS
- This system is the most preferred and used in most off grid lifestyles, dependent on your allocated water supply. This system uses water just like a “normal” flushing toilet and can be customized to use even less water than a conventional ‘on grid’ toilet which use the services of mains water and septic utilities.
Septic tanks are essentially reservoirs which contain waste product direct from the toilet. The reservoir, separates and accomodates the breakdown of solids and liquids turning them it into a safe and reusable bi-product that can be used for fertilization and nutrient replacement within gardens, surrounding landscape or lawns.
These days, septic tanks come in a poly based plastic construction, or are made from concrete. Both materials are long-lasting, simple in design and are very durable.
Most septic tanks will have a divider installed within them, which keeps solids to one side of the tank and allows the broken down liquids to be exited from the outlet, after the natural process of anaerobic reaction and breakdown takes place. Bacteria is required for breakdown and all septic tanks host their own bacteria.
By definition, An aerobic reaction is the process of breakdown without the need for bacteria to be oxygenated. Aerobic reaction is the process of breakdown with the need for bacteria to be oxygenated.
Anaerobic septic tanks require the use of bacteria that doesn’t need oxygen to survive. Solids do breakdown into liquid from as a result of this bacterial reactive process.
There are also septic tanks that use the process off aerobic reaction breakdown as well. With the use of a simple pump, the tank is basically airated with bubbles to increase or speed up the breakdown process.
There are many new concepts and design approaches when it comes to dispersing this broken down, effluent overflow back into the earth;
It is basically just this; the main pipe that is attached to the outlet of the septic tank then splits or diverts into a network or system of more pipes that are perforated and laid within a series of trenches ( drain field ) that allows the waste liquid to be re-entered safely back into the earth.
Once this effluent has been released from the final series of pipes into the ground, the soil or compound is then used as a filtration system which separates once again on a more microscopic level through the process of leaching and releases clean and safe water back into the sub terrain.
Septic Tanks – Considerations
1. Considerations must be made in regard to :
Land size, Soil type, Proximity to sensitive or quality waterways ( Aquaducts ), Neighbouring titles, affordability, practicality, and general awareness of responsibility and outcome.
As most off grid homesteads or dwellings will need to abide by some form of municipal law in regard to this, advice and solution may or will be governed by local council or authority.
This isn’t a bad thing, as your septic solution will be decided for you, and in turn you will have a safe and efficient system that will you serve you and your family for a very long time.
As also previously mentioned, Your site holds an important factor for which type of septic drain field set up is going to suit you better. Those in the field of selling and providing septic tanks, generally, have a great understanding of the various types of drain field techniques that is perfect for your needs.
Consultation is always a good idea and you are best seeking professional advice or have someone personally view your site if you need further recommendations. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
3. Septic tanks require water
Septic tanks use water as a result of flushing your toilet. In the instance that you are impartial to rain or have low water volume due to, whatever particular reason, then I would like to inform you that using a septic tank is still quite achievable.
Grey water or used laundry and shower water can be diverted into a separate holding tank which is in line or connected to your toilet. This method is a great method ! and I totally recommend this, even if you do have an ample supply of water. Your old laundry and shower water is not wasted. It is re-used to remove your waste. This makes a lot of sense !
4. Your septic tank will need to be serviced
As a basic rule of thumb, your septic tank will need to be emptied around every 3-6 years. This time frame is based on a nuclear family, that which has two adults and two children. Obviously the more traffic and use you have, you may expect the tank to be requiring emptying closer to 3 years than 6.
Septic tank emptying is done for you by an expert in the field who specializes in the removal of your waste. It is a short process that isn’t that expensive. You are not required to empty your own septic.
5. Impact on environment
Overall septic tanks have very little negative impact on the environment if they are installed correctly and the appropriate drain field is in place. Dependent on your location and your bind to municipal guidelines or codes, you can actually build your own septic tank.
“Always consider the impact of your septic solution on the environment and others”
6. DIY or Build your own septic solution
There are many types and methods in this procedure. Consideration for the environment must be paramount when designing and building your own septic tank and drain field.
There is much information available to you these days in regard to building a safe and efficient septic set-up yourself. You can also save money by designing and building your own.
In conclusion, the septic method is by far the most popular and safely treats your waste accordingly. The system works well and there are very few faults or problems to be experienced once this system has been successfully installed.
The re-use of your used laundry and shower water to aid in the flushing of your toilet initially works hand in hand with a septic set-up. It is definitely a “win-win” situation, as far as efficiency and recycling is concerned. Not to mention the treated bi-product can be used on gardens and re-entered back into the earth.
DRY or COMPOSTING TOILETS
- This method is very easy and would be more suitable to those that have water restrictions. These toilets essentially use no water. The dry or composting toilet is a toilet that treats our waste in a different way, through the means of evaporation and natural decomposition. The result is a compost that is safe to use on gardens and the like, as it is regarded to be pathogen or virus free at the complete stage of decomposition.
“As 90 % of our waste is water, the majority of mass is actually evaporated back into the atmosphere, leaving behind only a surprisingly small amount of matter which converts back into soil.”
This method works on the Aerobic reaction process, and is a very efficient and sustainable method. Composting toilets are basically geared up compost bins which have been developed through much research on speeding up the breakdown process.
These toilets are designed, so conditions for bacteria to be accelerated and complete the decomposition process faster and more efficiently.
Through very smart design, the oxygen, heat, moisture and waste matter environment in the unit, is optimized for the decomposition acceleration. The toilet units themselves, don’t look like Lamborghini’s, but they act like them !
These particular style of toilets are fast becoming popular, sustainable and suitable options for off grid living. They come with many features and varying set-ups, reflecting different types of company and factory designs.
They are practical, safe, stylish and affordable. Obviously you get what you pay for, but I have to say that overall, they meet the standards and are quite good value for money. They range in prices from a couple of hundred dollars into the low thousands.
Dry or Composting Toilets – Considerations
1.They are actually quite odourless !
Great news ! With the effects of negative pressure within the unit they are also combined with a ventilation source. With the use of a material like sawdust or the like ( preferably not bulky ) periodically, in between uses will aid in keeping smells away and also to create layers and airation in the waste which aerobic activity performs best in.
2. How often do I empty the toilet ?
For a family of 4 using it full time, the expectancy does vary between different types of models but for an average system, around 3 weeks.
3. User friendly
These systems are user-friendly and are ergonomically correct to that of a regular ‘flushing toilet’. These toilets are also suitable and easy for children.
Having one of these toilets is also a lot better than having to go outside in the cold, rain or dark to visit the “ Temple of doom ” aka ‘the long drop!’ Relatively, they also are more impressive when you have guests or those of importance around !
4. Environmentally friendly
These chariots are good on the environment. The resulting bi-product from the waste pit can be relocated to a pile that can be left to airate for a further month or so. Obviously a pile that is able to be covered and kept from contact with children or animals. This is recommended, as it aids in complete decomposition of matter ensuring it is then safe to use on gardens, lawns etc.
5. They are water less
The best thing with this system is the fact that they are a water less design. This is great news for people with water restrictions.
The above listed toilets all serve a purpose, Choosing the right set up for you is something that you will have to consider. Not every set up will be suitable for the next person as this depends on many factors which I have mentioned. There are many types of methods, designs, brands and models to suit your requirements and long term needs.
“No job is finished until the paperwork is done” !
If you have any queries or comments on this subject, please feel free to leave them below and I will be more than happy to reply and help you out.
All the best