Water and Waste Systems

Conservation, Rainwater Collection, and Composting Toilets

Advanced Design/Build Inc. has extensive experience with wastewater systems, and we work closely with two of the leading Canadian companies that provide water and waste treatment options for remote and rural sites.


Regardless of whether one has access to an urban pressure water system or is providing their own water on a rural site, the first step is to reduce consumption and reuse water where possible. One of the obvious choices for reducing consumption is the use of low flow, dual flush toilets such as those in the Caroma line from Australia. They use less water than conventional toilets and offer a small or large flush to suit the usage. (It should be noted that any flush toilet, no matter how little water it uses, is still directing human waste into a waterway - it conserves some water initially, but is no less harmful than any other flush toilet in terms of putting human waste where it shouldn't go.)

Canadian Plumbing Codes are currently changing to allow the re-use of water in residences. The public health concern is two-fold: someone may connect their home plumbing system in such a way that waste water is directed back into the municipal supply lines (contaminating clean water for other households) and/or, the homeowner will connect pipes in such a way as to contaminate their own clean water supply. Details are being worked out to carry used water for recycling (often termed: greywater) in specifically coloured pipes and connected with valves and controls that prevent water from flowing back into the clean supply - the potable water supply. A typical configuration might allow dishwashing and shower water to be filtered and then directed to a flush toilet. This allows for two uses of the water before it is discharged.

Where the potable water supply is limited, or when a homeowner is concerned about reducing their 'aquatic footprint', composting toilets dramatically reduce water usage. Estimates vary, but typical households use between one third and one half of their potable water for toilet flushing. Taking the flush toilet out of the equation greatly reduces the amount of water needed by a household.

There are a number of strategies that help reduce water consumption if they are considered at the home's design stage. Locating the hot water tank as close as possible to the greatest user of hot water will reduce the flow of water that has cooled in the pipe and is run down the drain while waiting for hot water. The shower, clothes washer, and kitchen sink should be as close to the water heater as possible. Some plumbers will use smaller supply lines between the hot water heater and the hot outlet - again, reducing the amount of water that is run down the drain while waiting for hot water. There are systems that constantly circulate hot water so that it is available immediately at the faucets, but these systems are energy-wasters. The offer convenience but ignore energy usage.

The very simplest water conservation measures are available to all households - installing low flow shower heads and aerating faucet nozzles, as well as shut-off buttons on the shower head. A shut-off button is used when someone wants to suspend the shower head flow, but not lose their temperature setting, such as when shampooing hair - the water flow can be turned off while applying shampoo or conditioner and restarted to continue showering: the equivalent of turning off the tap when brushing teeth and turning it on to rinse the toothbrush.

Rainwater Collection

The technology for collecting, storing, and using rainwater is much further advanced in European countries, Germany in particular. The major components of a system to collect water from a roof are the eaves troughs, a simple mechanism to dump the first portion of water collected (it is too dirty to use), a collection tank, and a pump system to make the stored water available in the home or yard. Such a system becomes more complicated for our Prairie region in terms of frost protection - any component that contains water when the cold weather arrives will break when the water freezes and expands.

One variation of a typical system with tanks at ground level or buried is to collect the water immediately under the eaves trough in a tank located inside the home's conditioned air space (the warm living space). If the intended use of the water is toilet flushing, this may be accomplished with gravity lines to the toilets and a valve to select rainwater by gravity or pressurized water from another source. Such a system eliminates a pump and controls and also gets around the problem of someone accidentally accessing a buried tank of water - a potential risk for children.

The difficulties with an indoor water storage tank are 1) it takes space that could be used for other purposes, 2) the full tank will be very heavy and needs very strong and secure support all the way to the foundation system, and 3) the tank must be opened and cleaned periodically to remove the material that will get past the initial dump mechanism.

Advanced Design/Build Inc. has an indoor storage tank system set up for experimental purposes and we will be monitoring the details needed to operate the system and making improvements for the next one. The first system includes a 1200 litre tank located on the second storey of a residence and intended to supply two Caroma low-flush toilets.

Composting Toilets

As the quality of water resources continues to impact daily life, even in Canada with its wealth of fresh water, people are coming to realize that the disposal of human waste into waterways is a questionable practice at best. No one can disagree that the introduction of the flush toilet was a major step toward better health, especially in urban areas. However, mixing human waste with other wash water and then discharging the mix into a river or lake is proving to cause health problems for the life forms that live in that water, and also for us when we need to re-use that water for human consumption.

The whole area of water pollution has been a major issue for several decades now, and the planet's population and waste water practices are catching up with us - clean water is becoming harder to find even in water-rich areas of North America where it is almost inconceivable that we would compromise such a vast resource.

Toilets that do not use water have long been considered a practical alternative, and the logic is sound: if we don't need water to use the toilet, that is a direct saving of water and if we don't discharge the waste into a water stream, then we have not dirtied our water source. The stumbling block for waterless or composting toilets has always been - how do we build a system that equals the level of sanitation that we have enjoy with flush toilets? If you ignore what is happening with the wastewater that leaves the toilet, then the modern flush toilet in a home is a very attractive technology - simple, clean, cheap to operate, and a comfortable system for the user. It is a very tall order for a composting toilet to match the 'convenience' that we are all accustomed to.

In North America, composting toilets began to be noticed when Abby Rockefeller bought the rights to distribute a Swedish composting toilet design, in thecomposting toilets early 1970's. In the 40 years that followed, companies have copied that design, altered and improved on it, and continued to refine the concept. But some companies have also simply borrowed the name and produced many products that are not actually composting toilets, and their poor performance has hurt the public image of waterless toilets and detracted from the honest efforts of others to develop a reliable and convenient composting toilet that would offer an attractive alternative to the flush toilet. Thus, homeowners, cottage owners, park administrators, and highway departments, whose desires range from environmental friendliness to the need provide services in remote areas, are faced with a myriad of products all claiming to offer the best waterless toilet technology possible.

In over 3 decades of working with composting toilets, including the construction of Canada's largest single installation for a seasonal community of 200, an installation on the Labrador coast, on the Alaska Highway, on the Vancouver Island's Coast Island Highway, and residential installations, I know for certain that the only composting system that works is a large tank unit that is properly installed and has the appropriate ventilation and moisture control mechanisms. The tank will not be smaller than 4½ to 7 feet tall, approximately 3 feet wide and 5 feet long. Energy input will be limited to a small fan of roughly 5 watts. There will be simple mechanisms to address the needs of the compost activity - the ability to handle short term moisture overloads, the ability to turn and mix the pile, and so-on. These are the elements of a system that works for daily use - tested and proven in a wide variety of situations.

The only company that has consistently worked with the original composting concept and has made gradual and significant improvements over 40 years is Advanced Composting Systems of Whitefish, Montana, and their Canadian partner, Sunergy Systems Ltd. To date, they have built and installed well over 1000 systems all over Canada and the United States. Typically, the systems are purchased by government departments - Parks, Highways, Coast Guard, the Military. The product name is 'Phoenix Composting Toilet' - details can be found at their web site:

Provided that the right system is chosen, composting toilets offer the same convenience and cleanliness as flush toilets and are currently in use in homes, cottages, highway rest stations, parks, lighthouses, and remote locations all over North America. Advanced Design/Build Inc. has experience with the installation of these systems in all sorts of settings and can incorporate them into residential construction for clients interested in a waterless alternative to the flush toilet.


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