Recycling our water

Recycling plastics, aluminum, newspaper and more is top-of-mind for most of us; recycling our water is not something we typically think about. But when you stop to realize that there exists a finite amount of water and we’re constantly consuming it, washing with it, and flushing it down our toilets, only to be used again and again, well, we really do need to see it for what it is: recycling.

And that’s what a septic system does—it recycles our water. For those of us living in rural settings, it’s equivalent to the sewage treatment systems in most towns and cities, just on a smaller scale. Unfortunately, because most of us never see these systems, we lose track of them and just how critical they are to the environment, to future generations, to living.

It was also unfortunate that we were not able to be on site this past Friday when Matt Swenson and crew from STS Plumbing returned to install our water ‘recycling’ system. Given the good weather and soil conditions, installing the septic system (or what others in the trades these days are calling SSTS—Subsurface Sewage Treatment Systems) was a relatively routine one-day job. And all that was left for us to see this weekend were mounds of dirt where the septic tank and drainfield pipes are buried, a few inspection pipes at the surface, access manholes to the holding tank, and the electrical pedestal (power supply to the septic tank).

All in all, it’s good news and one more thing taken care of before the weather turns nasty. Our excavator—Stan Hongerholt—stopped by the site to visit with us today and affirmed that Friday’s installation went well, but not before they ended up digging a hole nearly twice as big as the holding tank because sand kept collapsing in as he dug down the 9-10 feet necessary to bury the tank. In the end, a crane lowered the tank gently into the hole, connections were made to the drain pipes, and then Stan neatly filled in around the tank to complete the job.

The real test, of course, will be to flush water through the house, into the septic tank, and checking out the entire system, but that’s weeks away as inside plumbing and water installation won’t take place until well into November. Still, this system has been designed and installed to meet the State of Minnesota’s goals to properly treat our wastewater as it returns to a natural cycle of filtering through the ground and back into the groundwater supplies that provide the water we drink (or off through underground springs into the nearby Root River).

Septic system graphic - 1Septic system graphic - 2

We’re proud of the fact that Minnesota—the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” (and then some!)—pays so much attention to how it protects its water supplies. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has had guidelines in place for septic systems adjacent to shoreland since 1968 ; state laws specifically addressing the installation of new septic systems, beyond shorelands, were added in 1994 and updated most recently in 2008. Still, according to the MPCA, there are an estimated 500,000 older systems installed prior to 1994 that “may not be adequately treating sewage.” We’re happy to be on this side of that equation!

If you’re interested in learning more about how the system works, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a great Homeowner’s Guide brochure.

[Graphics source: EPA]



Lanesboro, Minnesota
Climate Zone 6 (cold/moist)
Latitude: 43° 44' 18'' N
Longitude: 91° 54' 48'' W

House Size

Net Treated Floor Area: 1,514 SF
Gross Square Footage (House only): 2,210 SF

Building Envelope

Roof: R-99
Wall: R-61
Ground: R-53

Windows & Doors

Glazing: U-0.10 BTU / hour / sq. ft.
Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC): 0.48”
Frame: U-0.19 BTU / hour / sq. ft.

Modeled Performance

Specific Primary Energy Demand (Source Energy Demand): 12.1 kBTU / sq. ft. / year

Specific Space Heat Demand: 7.0 kBTU/sq. ft. / year

Peak Heating Load: 7,047 BTU / hour

Space Cooling Demand: 0.44 kBTU / sq. ft. / year

Peak Cooling Load: 3,625 BTU / hour

Pressure Test Goal: Whole House Air Changes Per Hour (ACH) = 0.4 ACH 50


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