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Living Machines and other types of constructed wetlands are beautiful, but they’re not ideal for every client. Onsite wastewater treatment might make sense for your next project, though, depending on factors like the site, the local infrastructure, and the owner’s mission.
Here’s a quick guide to figuring out when and where onsite wastewater treatment makes sense. For a deeper look at the topic, read this month’s EBN feature article, “Waste Water, Want Water” (BuildingGreen member link).
Potable water has a massive energy footprint, even in water-rich areas. We don’t pay anything like the true cost of this nonrenewable resource, so most of us don’t think twice about polluting it just so we can make our own pee and poop go “away.”
Transporting and treating wastewater has energy and other environmental costs as well, but before you start doing the payback analysis on that membrane bioreactor, you first need to look at the water budget for the project holistically. What else can you do to reduce your use of potable water?
They’re not for every client, but they do warrant consideration for almost every project. Composting toilets use very little or no water, depending on the model: this means that we avoid polluting potable water just so we can move human waste around.
A recent high-profile project questions our assumptions about where composting toilets make sense. The six-story Bullitt Center, under construction in Seattle and pursuing Living Building Challenge certification, is currently in the process of installing composting toilets.
Maybe you’ve gotten all the potable water savings you can by rethinking your mechanical system and harvesting rainwater. Here are five cases in which onsite treatment and reuse should definitely be considered:
The more expensive and energy-intensive your system is, the more it may make sense to rely on a centralized system’s economies of scale—particularly if the local infrastructure is reasonably sustainable. Since that’s not often the case in the U.S., though, many wastewater experts are advocating for larger decentralized systems.
Clark Brockman, AIA, principal at SERA Architects, has been working with his colleagues to get the City of Portland, Oregon, to rethink its systems and to get developers rethinking their neighborhood infrastructure—possibly even creating micro-utilities for sharing reclaimed water among multiple building owners.
Brockman recognizes that his scheme is “very specific to Portland,” but he encourages all architects to think bigger.
To learn more about Brockman’s ideas, find out about the latest breakthroughs in closed-loop nutrient cycling, and hear from designers of the Sidwell Friends School constructed wetland, the Port of Portland Living Machine, and lots of other projects, check out this month’s EBN feature.
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