SHARE

The Consequences of Flush Toilets

Posted by Shawna Henderson on March 30, 2015
The Consequences of Flush Toilets Even with low-flow toilets, wastewater becomes part of the natural water cycle - we need to do a better job.

So there's lots of excellent work and capacity building going on, and net zero energy, low energy, and high performance houses are being designed and built throughout North America. Innovation and forward thinking abound. It's all very exciting. But there's a place past which most builders, designers, and homeowners will not go: beyond low-flow plumbing fixtures, specifically toilets. Massive infrastructure has made it pretty convenient to not think about the consequences of flush toilets. Sure, there are problems with effluent and e.coli and we have to treat water severely before it can be classed as "clean" once we flush it, but there are engineering solutions for that, and there's lots of money tied up in that, and this system works just fine, thanks, with a few extra jolts of chlorine added every once in a while.

But really, no. There are big issues. This is not a good version of an open system. Piped water is a great convenience and a massive boon to public health, at the same time that it's a disaster for the environment.

Water usage and access to potable water is on my mind a lot right now, with water rate hikes, and low-income households in Detroit having their water turned off due to one missed payment (yet 80% of the unpaid bills are corporate customers), and the looming potential of privatization of water resources. Anyone seen Tank Girl?

Water shut-offs at the city scale are likely precursors to major health problems, to homes being made uninhabitable, and to state-sanctioned removal of children from their homes and families. How is that cost-effective? What are people going to do? Where are they going to go? How does a city expect to garner property taxes out of more derelict, abandoned houses? It's a painful situation where solutions need to be found, and quickly, but this plays out quickly in my head as a worsening situation not an improving one, not even in the short run.

This article, by Lloyd Alter, managing editor of Treehugger, does a good job of dissecting problems with the North American approach to piped water and waste. I like his observation that the modern bathroom hasn't changed much since 1910: small room, porcelain fixtures, line everything up in a row to use less pipe. Done.

Ya, except is this the best way to do it?

Critical analysis would indicate not: just from a health point of view, flushing a toilet sends balloons of bacteria into the air. And sinks are right beside toilets. And toothbrushes are right beside sinks. Ew.

And there's more: toilets are designed for sitting, we're designed for squatting...ergonomics 101 have not been applied to the standard bathroom layout or fixture design. But we do have have an engineering solution.

Flushing is the big thing that circles back to concerns about piped potable water usage and energy use and costs (not to mention the burden on aquifers and such): Flush toilets result in millions of gallons of clean, potable (ie, drinkable) water contaminated, churned up and redistributed for your swimming pleasure. Ew. It wouldn't be quite so bad if the blackwater (toilets) and greywater (pretty much everything else) were separately treated. Then at least the lightly contaminated greywater could be treated in a different manner that quite possibly would be less energy intensive, bringing down the overall amount of energy required to treat water (from Alter's article: 10 billion litres of sewage/day in England and Wales requires ±6.3 GW hours of energy to treat, nearly 1% of daily electrical consumption for the two countries).

What if there were no blackwater? If there were no flushing...

Compost toilets have been around for a long time. I first read about them in my cherished-and-decrepit 1981 first edition of "More Homes and Other Garbage: Designs for Self-sufficient Living." Clivus Multrum was then, and still is, the Cadillac of composting crappers.

It could be time to re-write Witold Rybczynski's classic from the '70s "Stop the Five Gallon Flush." (That book was out of McGill, it was brilliant, and yes, I have a copy), as "Stop the Flush."

Except of course, people would be responsible for their own waste.

That could be awkward.

Or it could be a re-learning of how open systems work: You have an environment, there's input from the environment, there's throughput, and there's output back into environment. Feedback comes from the environment and allows for changes that allow for survival and growth.

 

This blog was originally posted on bfreehomes.com, July 15, 2014.

Comments
Add a new blog comment!

Enter your comments in the box below:

(Please note that all blog entries and comments are subject to review prior to posting.)

 

While we will do our best to monitor all comments and blog posts for accuracy and relevancy, Home Energy is not responsible for content posted by our readers or third parties. Home Energy reserves the right to edit or remove comments or blog posts that do not meet our community guidelines.

Recent Blogs
The Consequences of Flush Toilets

The Consequences of Flush Toilets

Shawna Henderson

So there's lots of excellent work and capacity building going on, and net zero energy, low energy, and high performance houses are being designed and built throughout North America. Innovation and forward thinking abound. It's all very exciting. But there's a place past which most builders, designers, and homeowners will not go: beyond low-flow plumbing fixtures, specifically toilets. Massive infrastructure has made it pretty convenient to not think about the consequences ... [continue reading]

Home Control or Automation?

Home Control or Automation?

Clint Stevens

I have been involved in home automation heavily over the last few years. At my home in Utah, I started by using a Mi Casa Verde and slowly moved over to SmartThings. The path has been long and hard, and littered with various devices, some of which are still in use. Belkin Wemo, Phillips Hue, Revolv, TCP bulbs, and Nest, along with several others make up the pack. Along the way, I’ve come ... [continue reading]

BPI Introduces New BPI.org for Consumers

BPI Introduces New BPI.org for Consumers

Leslie McDowell

The Building Performance Institute, Inc. (BPI) recently introduced www.bpi.org for consumers, a new interactive website designed to educate homeowners on the value of home performance energy upgrades and the quality of contractors who have earned the BPI GoldStar credential. [continue reading]

PHIUS to Launch North American Passive Building Standard at Event in Seattle

PHIUS to Launch North American Passive Building Standard at Event in Seattle

Mike Knezovich

The Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) recently announced that Executive Director Katrin Klingenberg will formally launch the new PHIUS+ 2015 passive building standard on March 25 at Seattle’s Bullitt Center. [continue reading]

Energy Code Enforcement is Part of the Foundation

Energy Code Enforcement is Part of the Foundation

Caitriona Cooke

Smart building design and construction professionals know that a building is more than a sum of its parts—it’s a complex system. For example, a poorly designed HVAC system can turn an otherwise efficient home into an energy hog. The understanding that a home is a complex system is reflected in today’s building codes, and proper compliance ensures that we’re building better energy performance into the process from ... [continue reading]

Why I Love Dumb, Passive Do-Nothing Houses

Why I Love Dumb, Passive Do-Nothing Houses

Shawna Henderson

I've had a decades-long love affair with dumb, passive houses. Passive. As in do-nothing. I love the design challenge of making do with the site and the microclimates that a house can be tucked into, the available solar gain, the building envelope. The minimal interjection of technology to maintain comfort has always been appealing to me, mainly because I'm selectively cheap and lazy. I don't want to do anything that costs ... [continue reading]

Join DOE for a Webinar on Home Energy Score

Join DOE for a Webinar on Home Energy Score

Joan Glickman

The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced the release of a new online simulation tool that provides free, targeted training and testing to individuals interested in providing the Home Energy Score – a standard energy efficiency assessment and score generated only by qualifying professionals. The Home Energy Score Simulation Training (the Sim) lets candidates walk through different virtual homes with numerous combinations of energy-related characteristics. The Sim trains candidates on skills specifically required to ... [continue reading]

Water Heaters Get an Efficiency Makeover Courtesy of DOE

Water Heaters Get an Efficiency Makeover Courtesy of DOE

Marianne DiMascio

From the rustic 1850s pump shower to the 1920s Humphrey automatic to today’s modern units, water heaters have made great strides in performance and efficiency. On April 16, 2015, water heaters will take the next great stride when manufacturers must comply with new Department of Energy (DOE) efficiency standards. The most common water heaters manufactured on and after this date will get a modest boost in efficiency, while units over 55 ... [continue reading]

Number of Certified Passive House Square Meters Reaches One Million Mark

Number of Certified Passive House Square Meters Reaches One Million Mark

Benjamin Wünsch

Building owners throughout the world are increasingly turning to the Passive House standard. This past autumn, the number of square meters that have been certified internationally based on the highly efficient standard reached one million. The symbolic threshold was crossed with the certification of the Midori Haus in Santa Cruz, California. Almost 25 years after the construction of a prototype house in Darmstadt, tens of thousands of tenants and homeowners continue to benefit from the low ... [continue reading]

Law Could Prevent Ambitious Battery Storage Plan in Texas

Law Could Prevent Ambitious Battery Storage Plan in Texas

Holbert Janson

The transmission utility responsible for the electricity infrastructure of much of Texas has an idea that could change the power industry. Oncor, who is responsible for transmitting power to large parts of the state including the Dallas/Fort Worth area wants to invest billions of dollars in large scale battery storage to help manage the uneven demand for electricity and improve the reliability of the region's electric grid.  Batteries would allow the utility ... [continue reading]

Earn BPI CEU credits
HEP
Home Performance with EnergyStar
Email Newsletter

Home Energy E-Newsletter

Sign up for our free monthly
E-Newsletter!

Harness the power of
HOME PERFORMANCE!

Get the Home Energy
e-newsletter

FREE!

SUBSCRIBE

NOW!