Last month a group of state and local environmental officials visited the New Norris House to learn about the results of our ongoing data collection. Members of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and the Norris Water Commission (NWC) attended the tour led by Profs. Tricia Stuth, Dr. John Buchanan, and Valerie Friedmann.
During the tour we highlighted several of the water quality and quantity benchmarks we have been able to achieve such as a 61% reduction in city water use compared to the average US home and the on-site infiltration of almost 24,000 gallons of greywater in one year. The members of TDEC and the NWC were particularly interested in the implications of the greywater infiltration bed. Dr. Buchanan of UT's College of Biosystems Engineering summarized the impacts of such on-site greywater treatment:
"We want to separate people from their waste water, and we've been doing a good job of that. But if we can be more sustainable by putting water back in the landscape so it can recharge the ground water and not focus so much water at a point discharge or waste water treatment plant, then it's much more sustainable. Much more doable over the long term."
Members from TDEC and the NWC were quick to point out that many communities in the region are experiencing strain on their waste water infrastructure due to aging pipes. Practices such as on-site infiltration at the individual or neighborhood scale could help alleviate these strains. However, there are many challenges to implementing distributed treatment facilities. One challenge is the region's topography. Many of our developed areas, including the site of the New Norris House, are located on hilly terrain. We used a terraced bed approach to provide a level area for infiltration.
Another challenge is the regulatory process. We worked with both State and City of Norris officials through the entire process of designing, building, and monitoring the greywater bed. At the state level we have a permit for an experimental greywater treatment bed that expires when we sell the home. To be permissible in the City of Norris, the NWC revised the water and sewer code to allow for greywater treatment for a trial period.
It will be interesting to see what happens to both the rainwater harvesting and greywater infiltration systems with the auction of the home in the coming months. Stay tuned for updates!
The New Norris House is a design/build effort from the University of Tennessee's College of Architecture and Design. Began in 2009, the home was designed and built by UT students in collaboration with Clayton Homes. The built project is now complete and the final phase of the project has begun. A team of 4 people (2 living in the home, and 2 graduate researchers) will rigorously document the experience via qualitative assessments and quantitative measurements, posting results to this blog.