Figuring out how to get your tiny house a supply of water is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face living off-grid. Wouldn’t it be great if we could simply capture and use the water that falls out of the sky? I had always thought that rainwater harvesting in a tiny house would be inconvenient and ineffective due to the small roof size. Enter today's guest, Brad Lancaster. Brad is a tiny house dweller and author of several award-winning books about rainwater harvesting, and he has completely changed my mind. Not only is rainwater harvesting doable in a tiny house, but I’m actually planning on implementing some rainwater capture in my own setup. Don’t miss this conversation with Brad Lancaster so you can learn how to get started with Rainwater Harvesting!
In This Episode:
- Overview of rainwater harvesting strategies
- Winter water tips
- How to keep the water clean to avoid having to treat it
- Does a dirty roof affect rainwater harvesting?
- Brad's system and what happens in a drought
- What effects will rainwater harvesting have on your living situation?
- Legalizing and incentivizing rain and gray water harvesting
- Graywater differences, uses, and passive heating/cooling
- Simple is better (and cheaper): Brad explains why
- How to harvest condensate
Links and Resources:
- Rainwater Harvesting Roofing page
- Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond books and more
Brad Lancaster is the author of the best-selling, award-winning books Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond and co-founder of NeighborhoodForesters.org.
Since 1993 Brad has run a successful permaculture education, design, and consultation business focused on integrated regenerative approaches to landscape design, planning, and living. In the Sonoran Desert, with just 11 inches of annual rainfall, he and his brother's family harvest about 100,000 gallons of rainwater a year on an eighth-acre urban lot and adjoining right-of-way.
Over a million gallons more is annually harvested by Neighborhood Foresters-led efforts throughout the neighborhood. This harvested water is then turned into living air conditioners of food-bearing shade trees, abundant gardens, and a thriving landscape incorporating wildlife habitat, beauty, medicinal plants, and more – all the while reducing downstream flooding.
The goal of Brad's book series and overall work is to empower his clients and community to make positive change in their own lives and neighborhoods—by harvesting and enhancing free on-site resources such as water, sun, wind, shade, community, and more. It’s catching on, as evidenced by tens of thousands of practitioners and demand for Brad’s work around the world.
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How to layout a Rain Garden
Lowered portions of curbs allow storm runoff to be harvested
A well-placed mirror can help heat your home
Multilingual signs with QR codes help people learn more about plants
Brad Lancaster 0:00
It's it's reality. Drought's gonna hit wherever you are in the world. And with climate change, the likelihood is is increasing. But what seems to be the overriding pattern is we're getting more extreme events when we do get rain and then longer spells without rain between.
Ethan Waldman 0:19
Welcome to the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast, the show where you learn how to plan, build and live the tiny lifestyle. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, and this is episode 155. with Brad Lancaster. Figuring out how to get your tiny house a supply of fresh water is one of the biggest challenges you'll face living off grid. Wouldn't it be great if we could simply capture and use the water that falls out of the sky? I had always thought that rainwater harvesting in a tiny house would be inconvenient and ineffective due to the small roof size. Enter today's guest Brad Lancaster. Brad is a tiny house dweller himself, and author of several award winning books about rainwater harvesting, and he has completely changed my mind. Not only is rainwater harvesting doable in a tiny house, but I'm actually planning on implementing some rainwater capture in my own setup. Don't miss this conversation with Brad Lancaster so you can learn how to get started with rainwater harvesting.
Did you know that I personally send a tiny house newsletter every week on Tuesdays. It's called Tiny Tuesdays and it's a weekly email with tiny house news interviews, photos and resources. It's free to subscribe and I even share sneak peeks of the things that are coming up, ask for feedback about upcoming podcast guests, and more. It's really the best place to keep a pulse on what I'm doing in the tiny house space and also stay informed about what's going on in the tiny house movement. To sign up, go to thetinyhouse.net/newsletter. I'll never send you spam. And if you don't want to receive emails, it's easy to unsubscribe. Also, I have a huge announcement coming up in early April. And if you're hoping to build or buy a tiny house in the next year, you're not going to want to miss it. The best way to find out is to subscribe to the Tiny Tuesdays newsletter at thetinyhouse.net/newsletter. That's thetinyhouse.net/newsletter.
Alright, I'm here with Brad Lancaster. Brad is the author of the best selling award winning book Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond and co founder of neighborhoodforesters.org. Since 1993, Brad has run a successful permaculture education design and consultation business focused on integrated regenerative approaches to landscape design, planning and living in the Sonoran Desert with just 11 inches of annual rainfall. He and his brother's family harvest about 100,000 gallons of rainwater a year on an eighth acre urban lot and adjoining right of way. Over a million gallons more is annually harvested by neighborhood foresters led efforts throughout the neighborhood is harvested water is then turned into living air conditioners of food bearing shade trees, abundant gardens and a thriving landscape incorporating wildlife habitat beauty, medicinal plants and more. All the while reducing downstream flooding. The goal of Brad's book series and overall work is to empower his clients and community to make positive change in their own lives and neighborhoods by harvesting and enhancing free on site resources such as water, sun, wind, shade, community and more. It's catching on as evidence by 10s of 1000s of practitioners and demand for Brad's work around the world. Brod Lancaster, welcome to the show.
Brad Lancaster 3:52
Thanks so much. And hey, just one quick correction on the introduction. Although maybe it's just a blip in the audio. We live on an eighth of an acre not eight acres, ah, an eighth of an acre. even more impressive. Yeah.
Ethan Waldman 4:08
So I so appreciate you taking the time to do this interview. And I've been really excited to talk with someone about rainwater harvesting. I'm curious if you could like just start us with the basics, even though the rainwater harvesting maybe defines itself, but can you give your definition of of what is rainwater harvesting?
Brad Lancaster 4:30
Yeah, so rainwater is the capture of rainwater for a multitude of uses. And there's two typical ways that that's done. One is with active strategies, and one is with passive strategies. So the active strategies that's collecting water off a clean surface, such as a roof, directing that water to a gutter than through a screen and then into a tank. So you've got water readily at hand for whatever use you want. And that's typically What people most commonly think of, but the passive strategy that has a much greater capacity. And with a passive system, you're not tanking the rain, you're planting the rain. So you direct rainfall and runoff into water harvesting earthworks or rain gardens basically based in like shaped landforms that are vegetated and mulch, so they act as living sponges that rapidly absorb the water. So you reinvest it rather than drain it away. And then you access that water in the form of life such as fruit trees in their fruit, gardens, Wildlife, habitat, shelter, shelterbelts, beauty and so on. And I like to harvest water and integrating both active and passive strategies.
Ethan Waldman 5:59
Interesting. So it sounds like if you are living off grid and you don't have a source of water from say, like the city or town where you live, you might want to employ both passive and active techniques. You know, the active resulting in you know, water that you can, you know, wash your hands with and you know, cook food with and the passive resulting in in food to eat.
Brad Lancaster 6:25
Yeah, I would say, wherever you live, if you're connected to the grid or not connected to the grid, it definitely always makes sense to do the harvest of water with both active and passive strategies, especially because with these passive strategies, they can receive the overflow water from your tank. So instead of an unconscious troublesome discharge of overflow water, where it might flood your house, or other things you don't want flooded, you can utilize that overflow water not as a forgotten water or an ignored water, but rather as a resource water that you can direct to these earthworks and plantings that then can then help to shade and shelter your tank, resulting in cleaner water because the cooler the temperature at which you store the water, the higher the quality of that water. You can also set up these rain irrigated plantings to passively pool your structure in the summer months and passively heat it in the winter months. And the other thing with these passive strategies is they can harvest all water, not just your rainwater, because water naturally moves with gravity to the low points. So you can also direct your household grey water, your dark grey water, air conditioning condensate and more. All of the same rain garden earthwork.
Ethan Waldman 7:58
Very cool. And I it says in your bio, but I can hear the permaculture influence in what you're saying, you know, kind of thinking about harvesting water as more of a complete system beyond just maybe of tank and a bucket and into a whole system.
Brad Lancaster 8:17
Yeah, definitely. And especially in the tiny house context, it's super important to be making the most of every square foot or square meter of space, you have indoor space. And what makes a an effective tiny house work is good integrated design. So you're typically getting your furniture to do multiple things. And we should be doing the same thing with our water harvesting systems and landscapes.
Ethan Waldman 8:49
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that that water is one of the biggest challenges for tiny would be tiny home dwellers, particularly, you know, if they're building a tiny house on a trailer, and they're, they're potentially going to be moving around a bed, you know, finding a place to put your tiny house and then getting access to water can be quite a challenge. Both from a logistical perspective, just being too far from any source of water, you know, any city source of water, and also just the issue of freezing temperatures and and you know what happens in the winter when you are harvesting rainwater? Or sorry, in the traditional model when you have a hose that's running to your neighbor's house, and then it's winter now how do you keep that from freezing?
Brad Lancaster 9:42
Yeah, well, um, I would say that it's not that hard, depending on what you're trying to achieve. So with the passive water harvesting earthworks that can be done anywhere. You've got soil around you And it can cost as little as the price of a shovel because you basically just moving dirt to make a topography that receives water rather than drains water and receives and infiltrates it where it's a resource, not a liability. And then in terms of the tank systems, more, what I see is the limitation. With a tiny house, you've got a smaller roof, so you've got a smaller catchment surface. So there is that's the case, what becomes more important is that you cycle and reuse your water more times, so your need for water is less. So along with harvesting your rainwater, you ought to be harvesting your grey water, which is your lightly used sink, shower, or wash your water. Use it again cycle it again is the planet's natural hydrological system does as opposed to just one use and throw it away. So if you're on a trailer with your house, and you want a tank, that's going to create an additional thing you need to carry, which would be the tank, but you could design your tiny house so the tank could go into the home as the home is being pulled on the trailer. And then you pull the tank out and set it next to the structure when you're set in a place for a little while. And you're all ready to go.
Ethan Waldman 11:23
Brad Lancaster 11:25
And inside, I just realized you also brought up another concern of winter use. So if you this would depend on where you're setting yourself up. So most places in Arizona, even the higher elevations of Flagstaff, Arizona, which is an Alpine forest, you can harvest rainwater year round. Because the if as long as you have a large enough tank, that's 500 gallon minimum capacity, the tank water won't completely freeze, because you've got enough mass in the tank, and it's water as long as it's on the south wind or sun facing side of your structure. And then you just want to make sure all your plumbing is below the frost line, or insulated so it doesn't freeze. And you can just keep it simple of having a full port faucet valve on the tank that you you cover with ample insulation for your climate. And then just make sure when you know weather's really going to dip down, you've got some stored water in the home as well. Right? So if you have to wait a while for things to thaw out, you're not going to run out of water.
Ethan Waldman 12:41
Fascinating. Yeah, I hadn't thought about that. Just the I guess the thermal mass of 500 gallons of water and waters properties of you know, taking a lot of energy to bring it from a liquid to frozen that it would resist them freezing temperatures.
Brad Lancaster 13:00
Yeah, and you could choose a darker colored tank for your winter months and then in your summer months grow or build shade to cool it in the hot months.
Ethan Waldman 13:12
Interesting. Yeah. And could you say more you touched on this earlier just the water quality being of like, the colder you can store your water the higher quality it is what why is that?
Brad Lancaster 13:25
Well, just think of if you're checking out a pond or whatnot that it's cooler mountain water, you know, a pond in in a mountain setting tends to be quite clear, really high quality. But then if you get to a much hotter climate, you're gonna find that you're gonna have a lot more algae and whatnot growing in the in the water. Right there. There's a lot of other life that may not contribute to the quality of the water as it gets hotter.
Ethan Waldman 13:32
Got it. So I actually I have a little experience kind of random connection. Just a family member actually owned an off grid house in the Bahamas, where water, you know that it was completely off grid. It was kind of a cool project. I remember they had I think 1500 gallons of storage, so three 500 gallon tanks. And they did actually put a small amount of bleach in the tanks. Just to make the water just to clean the water a bit is that I'm imagining that as a permaculture practitioner, you probably are not an advocate for using bleach in your tanks.
Brad Lancaster 14:56
It depends depends on the situation. So my approach is how can I get the water harvesting system to naturally keep itself clean and filter impurities to the greatest degree possible before so, I can perhaps avoid a need for chemical treatment or mechanical treatment. Yeah. So in, in my book Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Volume One, the third edition, I lay out 10 principles or guidelines on how to design a system, so that it will be largely self cleaning. So, you know, simple thing is don't have a tank that allows sunlight into the tank because then you'll get green algae growth and at your inlet into the tank, you want to ideally have say, a rain head screen, which is a screen box, just below your downspout as it exits the gutter that has a 45 degree angle on it. So leaves, other organic debris, insects, critters are all shunted off like a slalom slide, and just the water enters the system. So you're keeping it clean from the get go. And you can start even before that. So when you're designing your tiny house or choosing one to buy or rent for to have you select a non toxic roof surface, so the design of your structure doesn't contaminate the water, you want to similarly select a tank that is made for potable or drinking water storage. Otherwise, if you don't, you might choose a tank that could contaminate your water. Right so it's just you know, simple approach there keep it clean from the get go.
Ethan Waldman 17:01
Yeah, so what would a non toxic roof material be?
Brad Lancaster 17:06
Well, it's hard to find here you know, stainless steels great. It's quite common in Asia, but you can find other metal roofs. Australia is way ahead of us because they actually rate their metal roofing for potable water collection. I don't yet see that and us manufacturers of metal roofing but but on the whole gaveling metal roofs a good, good way to go.
Ethan Waldman 17:38
Okay. Okay, interesting. So,
Brad Lancaster 17:43
and now, sorry, I just add on the rainwater harvesting page on my website. On the in the Resources section, I list, various roof options and those that are rated for potable water collection. So there's even some roof paints that are available. So let's say you have an asphalt shingle roofs, you could paint over that with paint that's made for potable water collection. Okay.
Ethan Waldman 18:09
And what about things like, you know, bird, you know, birds poop on your roof? You know, debris, I guess the debris is gonna get shunted out from the rain head. But what about Yeah, what about things like, like bird poop or other environmental things that could be on your roof?
Brad Lancaster 18:27
Well, metal roofs gonna be solar cooking it. Ah, that's helping then the rain head screen I mentioned before, then you also could divert the first flush of water coming off your roof to plantings instead of the tank. So the dirtier water, it's carrying whatever debris is accumulated on your roof since the last rain is diverted away around rather than into your tank. And you can draw the water from your tank not from the very bottom but off off the bottom a little bit. So you're not drawing out the sludge of whatever makes it to the screen and as accumulated on the bottom of the tank, just leave that on the bottom to act as a naturally occurring sludge layer, which can be inhabited by beneficial life forms like clear algae, which can actually help clean your tank. And that's which that can be an issue if you're just going to bleed trout, you could be killing off some of the beneficial life forms that are helping clean your tank as well as killing off those that might be harming you. So
Ethan Waldman 19:36
right it's the it's the kind of scorched earth approach kill everything.
Brad Lancaster 19:42
Yeah. But there's worse scorched earth approaches than that.
Ethan Waldman 19:48
Brad Lancaster 19:51
So and and I'll just add this to you rather than bleaching all your water for all uses including irrigation of your plants. If you irrigate for your tank, why don't you only treat the water that you're using to drink? Sure. Simplify the system that way. Yeah. So only treat water for the needs that need treated water. Right. Right, that can dramatically reduce the costs, the size and cost of the system.
Ethan Waldman 20:26
Sure. So I have so many different different you've said so many things that I want to follow up on. But I actually was thinking maybe, could you tell us about about your re or sorry, Your rainwater harvesting system at your own home? You know, you mentioned or you told me in advance that you know, you only have 400 square feet of roof catchment. And you live in the desert. So tell tell us about your system. Yeah,
Brad Lancaster 20:56
so I live in Tucson, Arizona, where we get 11 inches of rain in an average year. I live in a 200 square foot on footprint, tiny home. out that would be interior space is 200 square feet. But um, I've added a porch covered porch on the east side to shade me from the morning sun and give me an outdoor kitchen area. So that gives me an additional 100 square feet of roof for total 300. And then I have also collect water from the joining house section of that roof to up to 400 square foot of catchment area roof catchment area, and I have to 1000 gallon tanks. And so for a total of 2000 gallons tank capacity for the structure. And in an average year of rainfall that that provides me with 95% of my all my domestic water needs drinking cooking, bathing, irrigation for and just around the structure. Now, we are in an extreme drought right now this is the driest on record in Tucson. So instead of getting our typical 11 inches of rain a year, we got four. So my tanks are very low. And now I'm reserving the use of that water only for drinking and cooking. Okay, all other uses, I've ceased. And I do have the luxury of having city water backup. And so I'm using that now for my bathing and you know washing of clothes. So that my drinking rainwater drinking water supply can make it till the next rain, which may not be until the summer so six months away.
Ethan Waldman 23:06
Wow. Well, I'm sorry to hear about the drought. That's unfortunate, for sure.
Brad Lancaster 23:14
Well, unfortunate, but it's it's reality and droughts going to hit wherever you are in the world. And with climate change, the likelihood is is increasing. So you your overall rainfall may or may not change. But what seems to be the overriding pattern is we're getting more extreme events when we do get rain and then longer spells without rain between. So everyone should be designing for drought, right. And whether you live in a tiny house or not what I think is great about not just rainwater harvesting, but also household gray water harvesting, condensate harvesting, street runoff harvesting, the harvest of all free on site waters, is it's gonna reduce your utility bills your cost of living. And also, by living with these systems, you're gonna become more familiar with them, and you are going to be far more resilient. In both wet and dry climates, you'll be more resilient to drought you'll be more resilient to flooding in the wet climates because of the way you are managing water and learning from that. And even though I'm having to draw on the city backup water right now for a number of my water uses, when for the many years that were average, I was able to help reinvest and infiltrate rainwater into the municipal system by basically giving back or infiltrating more water into the system, and thus the aquifer and whatnot, then I took out. And so I think this type of, you know, living is, is the way to go, you know, in normal times and in adverse times because it, it makes us more resilient and both not just for ourselves, but for the entire community. So, you know, what, if everyone in the city gave back more water to the system than they took it out? It would be amazing. In fact, in Tucson, this desert community, it turns out that more rain falls on the surface area of Tucson and an average year of rain than the entire population of over a half million people consumes of municipal water in a year. Yet, the vast majority of those people don't currently harvest their water, but rather drain it away. Right. So the conventional way of living, we're actually making things worse over time, rather than better. But we could easily flip it, if we made the conscious choice to live differently, and chose to give back more than we took. Then rather than having our groundwater table drop year after year, it could rise instead of having the water quality worse, and it can improve. Yeah. And that's what I'm finding on site. And that's what I find around the world in my travels. Yeah. Seeing what individuals and communities are doing
Ethan Waldman 26:30
with harvesting of water. Is that is that happening? in Tucson, for example? Like, are you seeing cities and municipalities in dry, particularly dry locations, kind of start to come around on this and actually encourage it in new construction?
Brad Lancaster 26:50
Yeah, absolutely. So I worked with a number of other folks to get some rainwater harvesting ordinances passed, first of all, talking about a passive system. We cut the street curb to allow street runoff water to enter street side tree basins, so the street can irrigate street side trees for free. And when we did this, it was illegal. So we did it on a Sunday when no one from the city was watching. And we all start with one small system. So if mistakes are made, there wouldn't be any big problems. We work through our mistakes, fix them, improve the system, and then eventually approach the city. So using our site is a pilot project. We worked with the city for a number of years and have now legalized the harvest of rainwater, or of stormwater from streets via curb cuts, the street side plantings and in street plantings. So not only is it legalized, it's now incentivized with rebates and even mandated in new city road construction or major renovation. So that speaks to the power of small working examples. We've also worked with others to legalize and incentivize and mandate the harvest of household gray water in various instances. So when we started doing this, we were the only ones in our neighborhood doing it. And most people didn't know what the term water harvesting meant. Now you can go to any neighborhood in the city and you'll find folks doing it. It's not yet mainstream. But it's now part of the vernacular. And it's now recognized by Tucson Water as one of our water sources, when we started, rainwater was not even considered a water source. It was considered something to get rid of which is insane. So all we had was a stormwater control or flood abatement. department we didn't have it was it was promoting the getting rid of the water, not the harvesting and reinvesting it now that's, that's underway in the shift. There's been not a lot of good shifts. We got to go further. But yeah, I'm I'm happy to see some of the progress we've made. And I see this around the world. It's not just Tucson doing this, a number of communities are waking up.
Ethan Waldman 29:36
That's awesome. One of the big barriers that that people in movable tiny homes can face when they try to find a place to park their home is you know what is happening with their gray water. I would say the majority of tiny homes tend to use compost toilets either you know, simple sawdust style or you know, fancy commercial compost toilets but there's still that issue of okay. This the water that comes out of the sink and the water that comes out of the shower. What are you doing in your tiny home with that gray water?
Brad Lancaster 30:14
Yeah. So I keep the kitchen sink, drain water separate from sink, shower washing machine, okay, because kitchen sink water is dark grey water, there's more food materials in there, if people are cooking with meat, there's a much greater chance of e. coli and whatnot in the water. So you have to do a little bit more in terms of how you manage that water. So all is safe and good. So I'm going to start with the grey water, which is the water from your bathroom sink, your shower, bathtub, and your washing machine. That's okay, much safer and easier to deal with with simpler systems. So, if you got to know my tiny house has a foundation, it's in the ground, it's not a trailer. Those folks with trailers it's even easier. I mean, mobile homes are some of the easiest to access your gray water. Yeah, because it's very easy to get underneath and access your plumbing. So you want to make sure you tap your grey water upstream of your dark grey water. Okay, okay, so have a have a diversion valve upstream of where the dark grey water enters, and then you send them to two separate sites where you're utilizing the water. So I send my grey water to vegetated mulch basins or rain guards in the landscape, that's the easiest way to deal with it. So I'm using living filters of soil life, vegetation, mycorrhizal fungi, beneficial bacteria to filter and utilize the water. And the difference with and I just send the gray water direct, but I distribute the gray water to multiple points, not just one point, because I always sent it to one point, there's a chance that that one spots gonna get oversaturated and become anaerobic, which means lacking oxygen, and then we'll start to stink. Okay, so I distribute my gray water to multiple points with there's a number of ways you can do it. Branch drain graywater system is, is one of those ways or with your washing machine, you can have multiple drain pipes next to the washing machine. And every time you do a load of wash, you move the drain hose into a different drain pipe that each one taking it to a different plant. Okay, all of this I cover in depth in my second book, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Volume Two, just make sure you get the full color, Second Edition, okay, and the, so gravity sends the water right on out there, and I don't have to buy or maintain filter, the natural living system does all that for me. And I take it another step further. I'm directing that gray water where I want vegetation. So and I'm doing the same thing with my rainwater. So let's just talk about passive heating and cooling. At minimum, I want to have trees on the east and west side of my structure. So they shade me from the hot rising and setting summer sun, but they let in the full winter sun from the equator facing side of my structure. That'd be the south side and the North hemisphere, or the north facing side in the southern hemisphere. So that way, I'm not only getting beauty and food from the trees and whatnot, I grow and but I'm also getting free air conditioning and free heating, right? Just because I've given a little more thought of, well, how does this sun change its path through the sky through the seasons. So in the winter months, the sun is low in the sky. And it's all in the Northern Hemisphere. It's always in the southern part of the sky. And then in the summer months, the sun is going to rise not in the southeast like it does in winter. But it's going to rise in the northeast. It's going to be almost directly due east you know about 9 am or so yeah. And then it'll be close to directly overhead or closer to directly overhead in the midday hours and then set the Northwest again.
So by having trees on the east and west side, you say it out that hot summer sun in the morning and afternoon, but you're letting in all the winter sun and you can take it a step further and you can also plant a belt semi circle of trees are, it's a tiny house or a single tree, or large shrubs on the north side of the house as well. Again, this would be for the northern hemisphere, that can reflect some heat that and light that comes over your house roof in the winter months can hit that vegetation and reflect on your otherwise called shady side. And it can deflect winds around your structure. So you can also place all this in relationship to win. It's kind of hard to do all this audio wise. It's better with residuals. Yeah. So I'm getting double duty that way, I'm not only getting a reuse of my water, I'm getting further uses from the vegetation because of how I've placed the vegetation in relationship to my trailer. And let's just say this right off the bat, even before we get to the landscape. When you park your trailer, park, your tiny house if it's on wheels, or if you're going to set it in the ground like mine have the law. Let's say it's a rectangle have the long walls face South due south and do north and the short walls east and west. Yeah, that way, you're going to have a long wall that in absorb for winter sun in the south. And you have shorter walls and less surface area. They get hit by the summer rising and setting sun on the east and west. Yep. So get your orientation right, then, do you get your plantings that build on that proper orientation, then direct your rainwater be your tank overflow or your grey water to those plantings to grow healthier, more vibrant plants that build on that right? Early work? Correct early work? Nice.
Ethan Waldman 36:52
You're talking about diverting the gray water to those plants? Now what about the dark grey water?
Brad Lancaster 36:58
Okay, so the dark grey water, you can choose an area where you're going to drag that water. But it's if you're going to do this legally. So in Arizona, we have legalized the gravity fed harvest of dark grey water within the landscape without an expensive septic tank system. Right. Okay. And I cover how that's done in my Volume Two book, the second edition. And even if you're not in Arizona, you could approach your various authorities show them the precedent that's been set in Arizona and they may likely change the codes and whatnot to allow you to do the same. Okay, but the biggest difference with the kitchen sink water is if you're doing it through this legal system is you're discharging that subsurface as opposed to on the surface via what's called a subsurface infiltration chamber it's like a Quonset hut looking thing that Scott no bottom to it, but it creates this big void space. Okay. Underground. very shallow you want it you want to be discharging your dark grey water in the top 12 inches of the soil we have maximum soil life and filtration Okay, so the difference between the kitchen sink water and the grey water is your rainwater can be discharged on the surface into but it's only on the surface for seconds before it's rapidly infiltrated into the rain garden you never have cooling puddling water gray water that's a no no right? Whereas with the kitchen sink dark grey water you're doing it subsurface
Ethan Waldman 38:56
How does that work when you do experience of a full winter where you know the ground freezes How do you do you have to change your graywater system as the season changes or is there some way that you can set it up you know so that year round you can still be you know filtering your your gray water and and putting your dark grey water into that sub system even when the ground is frozen?
Brad Lancaster 39:26
Gray water system works year round wherever you are nice okay, because well maybe not the Arctic
Ethan Waldman 39:36
Permafrost. No permafrost.
Brad Lancaster 39:39
Yeah, cuz the water is exiting your structure at above freezing temperatures.
Ethan Waldman 39:45
Brad Lancaster 39:46
So the only place where I can see it being a problem is if it's so cold that the water freezes before it exits your pipe. Okay, and that's that's the minority of locations in the continental US. I'm assuming your listeners are mostly in the US.
Ethan Waldman 40:06
Brad Lancaster 40:06
So my brother lives in Flagstaff to 9000 foot elevation, Alpine forest and uses the grey water as I've been describing year round, no problem. Because when the water exits the pipe into the rain garden basin, it it melts the snow or ice right there and all this good. Yep. With your dark grey water system, you should be fine to in most instances, in the really cold climates, you might need to put your infiltration chamber below the frost line. Yep. But at that point, it's becoming less of a dark gray water reuse system. And it's becoming more like a septic system, right? Because now you're starting to discharge the water below the horizon of maximum life. But my brother could do in Flagstaff could very easily do that kitchen sink system as I proposed. Nice. Yeah. Because again, it's gonna fall, it's not coming out frozen. Right?
Ethan Waldman 41:19
Yeah. And so I I'm in northern, I'm in Vermont, so it is quite cold here. And the place that I had my tiny house parked for the majority of the time, there actually was a septic system on site. So I had plugged my grey water into that existing septic system. But there was quite a long run of pipe that started out above ground and then went below ground but not not below the frost line, in order to get to that septic system from where I parked the house. And I never experienced, you know, that that part of the system never froze, even when it was, you know, polar vortex negative 30 degree Fahrenheit like it the drains still flowed.
Brad Lancaster 42:09
Yeah, that's a great example. Yeah, and there's another option folks gonna have to it'd be in a tiny home or conventional home, you know, trailer or in the ground is you can set up what's called a gray water harvesting stubbed out. And it's a valve that allows you to direct your gray water either to the landscape or the sewer, or septic your choice. Right. So if you wanted to seasonally redirect that gray water to the sewer septic, you could or you can direct it to landscape, your choice. So you know, all options open. And I you know, I described that in full in my rainwater harvesting for drylands beyond volume to second edition book. Okay.
Ethan Waldman 42:58
Does anyone ever bury their their storage tanks?
Brad Lancaster 43:03
You can do that. It can make more sense in cold climates.
Ethan Waldman 43:07
Yeah, that's what I was thinking for. You know, getting it below the frost line.
Brad Lancaster 43:12
Yeah, it just your cost dramatically increases? Yes, now you have excavation cost as well as tank cost. And you're gonna have to have a pump of some sort to access the water. Yeah, could be a hand pump. So another thing you could look at is I doubt you've got as much anywhere near as much winter water consumption as you do warm, hot months consumption. So you could have a smaller underground tank for winter use. And then you've got a larger above ground tank for warm hot weather use, you know, that could pre fill before the, the underground tank.
Ethan Waldman 43:58
Brad Lancaster 44:00
You know, the two could be connected in one overflows than x. But that's something you could could look into. Cool. Yeah,
Ethan Waldman 44:08
it seems like it there are solutions to so many problems. And and, you know, I would imagine that the average tiny home owner or somebody who's thinking about joining the movement is probably thinking like, oh, rainwater harvesting, that's too complicated. You know, I'm going to just focus on getting this little house built, you know, I get the sense that this can be really simple if you want it to be
Brad Lancaster 44:34
Oh, super simple. So you know, my system, it's all gravity fed. I don't have any pumps on my system. Okay. And it just think about it you're set from the get go because your roof is higher than you tire than all your water needs. So use that free power of gravity to move the water to the tank and from the tank to your sink or whatever and You could you can also, you could do say a bucket shower where you could fill water from tank, you know, into a bucket and hang that. And so you can have a little human power to in the system if you want, you don't have to. I like that myself, but others may not. But what I just find is all too often people go for the high tech, high cost appliance mentality, where it's like, yeah, just give me give me the buttons and switches. But I think that short sighted because if the power goes out, your whole system goes down. Yeah. So why not set up a system. So the whole thing can work on gravity. If power goes out, but if you you can augment the system with a pump or a pressure tank, if you want. So when you do have power? That's, you know, like the modern high tech home, but don't make it totally dependent on that. Or your you won't be resilient, you would be shut down in Texas right now. Right. But if you do a gravity fed rainwater harvesting system, you would have been set the whole the whole system, the whole storm.
Ethan Waldman 46:22
Right? Right. You'd have your you'd have your big tank that's not frozen, because it's, you know, a lot of gallons of water and yeah, gravity fed. Yeah. Do you keep your tanks? Are they higher than the house?
Brad Lancaster 46:39
They're not higher than the house, they're now Okay, they are, the bottoms of the tanks are slightly higher than the foundation of my house. Okay, but they're vertical tanks, they're taller than they are wide. So as they collect with water, the the height of my water increases never gets higher than the top of the roof, which is the source of water. So basically, I set it up, so my top two thirds of the tank drain of gravity in the my kitchen sink. But when we're in a severe drought, like now, then the water level drops below the sink. Okay, so then I have another, another lower faucet, which can access the water. Got it, okay. And so there's a lot of different ways you can go about it. But that's how, how I've gone about it. And it's it's also a means for me to. So when the when the higher faucet at the kitchen sink, when that starts to the flow starts to reduce Mike Oh, it's time to conserve. And if the flow totally stops, I go, yeah, I better conserve even more, because now I only have the lower faucet available to me. So it's a great feedback mechanism. Whereas I've talked with a number of folks that have rainwater harvesting systems, that's all automatic, and they are not watching the water level in their tanks. And then one day they're totally dry.
Ethan Waldman 48:15
Brad Lancaster 48:17
Because they never got the alert to start to concern.
Ethan Waldman 48:20
Yeah. Got it. Yeah.
Brad Lancaster 48:24
And if you're off, if you're off grid and you do run out of water, chances are you can, you can pay a service to truck in some water and fill your system get you through.
Ethan Waldman 48:36
Right. Right. We're worst case scenario you can you can have a truck come in fill your tanks. Yeah. You also mentioned I think, right at the beginning of the interview, you talked about condensate harvesting. Yeah. Can you talk Can you talk about that and you know, is that relevant to to tiny houses?
Brad Lancaster 48:58
Yeah, definitely. So if you're in a humid climate, you could harvest condensate just off your roof and the cool morning hours. If it's if it's a metal roof, that's pretty common. In the drier climates like where I'm I am at that's less common, but I recently learned of a couple in Texas that harvest up to 60 gallons a day of condensate off there. I think it's a 30 by 30 barn roof 30 by 30 foot barn roof, metal roof in the humid mornings. And basically what's going on there is it's humid there's a lot of moisture in the atmosphere in the air and moisture will condense around cold objects. So the metal roof that cools in the night air. It's cooler in the early morning hours. Then the ambient air temperature. So the humidity in the air condenses on the roof drains off the roof and your gutter and then you can collect that. Cool. And a lot of vegetation well, vegetation, it's more harvesting fog. But it can also pull that air moisture out with surfaces as the water condenses on. So another way you can do it is it's off air conditioning units. They all air conditioning units have condensate drains, because the coil and the air conditioning unit gets really cold. And so atmospheric moisture condenses on that so you can harvest that too. You can order some more of that in humid climates or from air conditioned spaces that have a lot of respiring bodies within them. And then the bodies are generating the moisture. Yeah. So that as far as how much you can collect that it's gonna vary on your climate and site. But if you got an air conditioner already, might as well access that water rather than unconsciously draining away or not accessing it.
Ethan Waldman 51:15
Yeah, yeah, I'm I'm kind of filled with wonder just kind of rethinking about water harvesting just going beyond grey water, or sorry, going beyond rainwater harvesting, and just starting to think about where are all what are all the sources of water? Where's, you know? Where is water being generated? With that I can capture it, rather than just ignoring it or letting it just fall somewhere where it's not getting put to a specific use?
Brad Lancaster 51:51
Well, that's great. That's exactly how I want you to be thinking. So what I like to do is I like to assess my site and see, okay, well, what are all the waters I have available? And then I look at each water source through four characteristics, what its quality, what's its quantity, what its availability, and what's its accessibility. So, here at my site, I've got a good amount of rainwater coming off my roof of really high quality. But there's a lot more volume of water coming off my street. But it's of a lower quality. I don't want to drink that because of the oils and stuff in the street.
Ethan Waldman 52:40
Brad Lancaster 52:40
So. So I prioritize the passive irrigation of perennial vegetation with street runoff using the life of the soil to help filter that water. And then I don't need to use as much of my higher quality, lower volume roof runoff for that irrigation, because I found an alternative water source for it. You get Does that make sense? Yeah, absolutely. And then I do the same thing with the gray water.
So the gray water I want to drink that. But rather than just using my high quality roof runoff once I can use it again via the grey water. And it's a higher quality water than the street runoff because I don't have the oils and heavy metals that are coming off the street. So I can actually use my gray water on some annual food crops even right. I'm just not directing that on any edible part that I would eat uncooked. Got it. Got it. And condensate that's in my climate is going to be a really low volume, probably the lowest volume of all right, but it's higher quality than both grey water and street runoff. So I might set up this and I got to think to like any place that's getting rainwater from a passive system that does not have a tank, it's only going to get the water when we get the rains. Whereas with my active tank system, okay, well I can dole that water out as long as there's still water in the tank long after the rain. Yeah. So I tend to send my condensate which is available in the summer months when water needs to the plants are greater. I send condensate two same places that are just getting direct rainwater, not tank water. Because when those passive water harvesting earthworks, they're only getting rainwater or drying out summer. Well, then the condensate is a water source that can help recharge. So I'm, I'm, I'm trying to balance the strengths and weaknesses of the various water sources with my on site needs. Got it? And sorry, I was just gonna say and thereby reducing my reliance on any one water source by having a much more dynamic integrated system of multiple sources.
Ethan Waldman 55:48
Yes, and that, I get that I see that pattern or that theme and in how you've been describing this, this whole interview just that there is it's a system and you've built some redundancies into the system. So you're never relying on just one source of water, or you're using it more than one time, or you have backups for different things.
Brad Lancaster 56:12
Yeah. And and I'm relying to the greatest degree possible on living systems systems, as opposed to just manufactured systems, right, which helps sequester carbon and improve life for everybody.
Ethan Waldman 56:29
Well, I could I could definitely talk to you all, all day about this. But I do want to ask you, just quick or to kind of explain. The is there? Are there two volumes of your book? Are there? Are there more than two? Yeah, there's too. And And so yeah, what's the difference between Volume One and Volume Two? Because you've kind of mentioned both?
Brad Lancaster 56:54
Yeah. Well, first off, if anyone's interested in the books, make sure you get the new full color editions, okay, because they've been greatly revised and expanded. So Volume One, that's, that's where I recommend people typically begin. Okay, that enables you to assess your site your various water sources, and figure out an integrated design for your whole system. And it gives you calculations to figure out correct tank size for your site and estimate your water needs. And then it covers both passive water harvesting earthworks, rain gardens and active tank systems. Then the second book that goes into much more detail, and it only covers the passive water harvesting, both rain waters, street runoff, and also grey water harvesting. Okay, but there's no no tank systems covered in that second book. Okay, and it goes in much more detail step by step, how you implement myriad strategies, how to select the strategies for your site, and what's appropriate for your site and how you got it. And all both are available at deep discount. Direct from me, with no middle person taking a cut at my website, harvesting rainwater calm.
Ethan Waldman 58:20
Awesome, awesome. And I'll, I'll put a link to that, on the show notes page for this episode. Great, which I can say I will, it will be thetinyhouse.net/155. So I'll put, I'll put links to your books and any photos I might be able to harvest from from you on that show notes page as well. Brad Lancaster, thank you so so much for your just your your time and your just attention. And I just really appreciated how thoroughly you have answered my questions, which probably all jumped around, and we're not that well organized. So I really appreciate you
Brad Lancaster 59:10
know, no problem. I appreciate the opportunity to share and and just two final things. Yeah, please is another resource for folks to check out his neighborhoodforesters.org and that highlights a lot of the work we've been doing in the community public rights of ways and for those folks with tiny houses where you got a small home footprint and maybe a very small lot if a lot at all. This is a way you can access public or common land and help enhance it with simple strategies. And and also wanted to mention while we covered some passive heating and cooling strategies within the landscape, yeah, just want to direct folks to my Volume One book for a number of strategies that I unfortunately, all too often seeing lacking in tiny homes, but are very easy to incorporate. For how you can set up your location sizes of your windows and roof overhangs as they relate to those windows, you have to maximize your passive or free heating and cooling of your interior space.
Ethan Waldman 1:00:24
Yeah, yeah. And that passive house design principles are for some reason they they aren't used. I agree with you. They're not used a lot in tiny house design. And I do think that there's, there's definitely opportunity there.
Brad Lancaster 1:00:42
And I do want to clarify one thing. So the the strategies that I emphasize in the book, unlike PassiveHaus house, spelled h a u s, yep, they're all super cheap, and very accessible for any income, and any building type. Whereas PassiveHaus h a u s tends to require they're much more expensive extensive insulation and air exchange units. None of that is required for the passive strategies I highlight in in my book,
Ethan Waldman 1:01:23
and that's in volume one. Yes. Awesome. Chapter, Chapter Four.
Volume One, Chapter Four. Brad Lancaster, thank you so much. I'm gonna buy your book as soon as we get off the phone. So because I'm excited to read more about it. And as I you know, I'm in between parking places for my tiny house. But as I look for potential land and place to park it, I really am excited to incorporate this perspective in in what I'm looking for.
Brad Lancaster 1:01:57
Perfect. That sounds great. Tell me how it goes. Oh,
Ethan Waldman 1:02:01
definitely. Oh, yeah, I might. Maybe I'll have to have you on for a second. A second interview at some point to go to go over my system.
Brad Lancaster 1:02:09
I'm up for it.
Ethan Waldman 1:02:12
Thank you so much to Brad Lancaster for being a guest on the show today. You can find the show notes from this episode, including all the links that Brad mentioned and some photos of rainwater harvesting setups at thetinyhouse.net/155. Again, that's thetinyhouse.net/155. Also, don't forget to head over to thetinyhouse.net/newsletter to sign up for the Tiny Tuesdays newsletter so you don't miss my big announcement coming up in early April. Again, that's thetinyhouse.net/newsletter. All right, that is all for this week. I am your host, Ethan Waldman, and I'll be back next week with another episode of the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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