Thursday, May 13, 2010

Grey water treatment and straw bale houses

How to meet new friends: talk s**t ! I’ll explain: we’re getting to meet new people thanks to our grey water treatment system! Sophie Langlais, who is locally responsible for supervising autonomous sewage installations locally, has been sending people to have a look at our horizontal plant filter. As has Christophe Le Petit, the proud installateur of our system.

And so we met Bruno and Mélanie, who are building a straw bale house just a cycle ride away from us. They bought a plot of land with another couple, Samuel and Clarice, who are also building a straw bale house on their half. They’re apparently employing slightly different techniques. Quelle chance for us ! We’ll be able to follow both builds closely and so learn loads, which will help us with our own build.

When I say “follow both builds closely”, I mean very closely indeed. After a thorough look at our grey-water system and a walk around the rest of our permaculture smallholding, we retired to our house for apéros of white wine and slices of homemade chorizo. Before they left, we’d signed up to help. I’ve since spent a day helping Bruno, Bruno’s dad and a team of friends to mix and lay the floor slab. Within more traditional concrete stem walls, a precise mix of pouzzolane (crushed volcanic rock) sand and lime was tamped level.

The team of carpenters, comprising a couple of professionals and three volunteers, have arrived onsite to erect the Douglas fir load-bearing framework. Mélanie’s and Bruno’s (real!) work schedules leave a couple of holes requiring external catering help; cue Gabrielle. Yesterday, after a self-deprecatory apology to the cold and hungry workers that they’d have to put up with English cooking, she served up soup, beef bourguignon, locally produced organic cheddar cheese and pear and almond tart to compliments that it was the best meal they’d had onsite and when was she coming back.

With our plans now ready, Bruno is going to help me fill out the planning application for our own straw bale house, which will save me a lot of time fretting over the complicated five-page form with otherwise only our well-thumbed French-English dictionary for company.

The photos show: Bruno’s and Mélanie’s building site the day we laid the floor slab and the lunch that accompanied it and our plant filter as it looks today.


BlogginBob said...

Best of luck with your straw bale house plans. I would have hoped you might have shared a bit more about your "thorough look at our grey-water system" than that one mention in an article so titled. Where there permitting issues? Did it cost more than conventional systems? How did you plan the layout? What selection of plants did you consider? And so on ...

Stuart and Gabrielle said...

Hi Bob,
Thanks for your comment. During the time I've been blogging, I've come to the conclusion that what works for us is four or five paragraphs with some photos. To go on and on with loads of details can turn people away but I understand your frustration with the lack of detail.
Have a look at my blogs of 5th Oct, 30 Oct and 1st Nov for some more details.
The permission issue is interesting in that it's in a state of flux. We were given a permission to "break the law" as these systems aren't yet approved. They have now moved onto a stage where they will approve them but need the companies that provide them to pay to provide a standard that they can be regulated to. So no one knows what is happening at the moment and we feel very lucky that we got permission for our current house and future straw bale house before the cut off date.
In my opinion, the cost is comparable at least and probably less. Conventional septic tanks need their sand filters changing every ten years and, if people were to adhere to that, our system becomes much cheaper.
You'll read about the planning in the blogs I've mentioned above and the selection of plants was dictated by the company installing the system.
I shall write more about our system as it evolves, so please keep reading.

DOT said...

You talking s**t? So what's new?

Stuart and Gabrielle said...

Thank you, David, for your eloquent encouragement !

BlogginBob said...

and thank you Stuart and Gabrielle for the clarification and the direction to the information I was looking for found in your earlier blog. You have me reading your blogs (old and new) now ... thanks.

Naiad said...

I have followed your blog for a while now and note that you also have guest facilities. Since you have brought up a water treatment subject, it seems a good time to ask my questions. How do you broach the delicate issues of 1)being water-wise (ie not spending AGES in the shower twice a day) and 2) disposing of sanitary protection (though I appreciate that this would come under 'black' water - or preferably not go 'under' water topics atall!!!).

Stuart and Gabrielle said...

I'll answer your query properly in my next blog. Watch this space!