Please critique - My tiered house idea to enable me gravity-fed water

Discussion in 'Designing, building, making and powering your life' started by spud, Dec 9, 2014.

  1. spud

    spud Junior Member

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    For a number of reasons we are adamant about having some or all of the house sited on top of a ridge, as you will see in my (really crummy) contoured mud map I drew in MS Paint below. I realise building on the ridge top goes against the basic permaculture principle of siting the house below the keyline, one of the benefits of thus being that you get to use gravity to supply water to your house.

    I'm totally hooked on the idea having gravity-fed water though, so I'm trying to come up with a house layout that might allow us to get away with no pump at all.

    My idea is to have the main living / kitchen area in one building (The UPPER HOUSE) at the top of the ridge. Rain is collected from the roof into a small tank on a stand which sits about waist-high. This then supplies water to the kitchen sink. There will be only a foot or two of head for this, but that's fine for the kitchen sink I figure.

    This tank then overflows into the large main tank next to it. This tank gravity feeds to the LOWER HOUSE, which contains the shower and the bedrooms. The Lower House sits about 4 metres or so down the hill than the main house, and the two would be joined by a covered walkway.

    When I think about the way we use the rooms in our house currently - the bedrooms are really just used for sleeping, the shower is used once a day before bed or if we come back from the beach, and the lion's share of our time is spent hanging out in the kitchen/living/veranda area. So I think this design could work rather well, even though the two are somewhat separated. I see that the toilet being downstairs might be a bit of an issue, so I'm considering having it somewhere in the middle, or maybe even caving-in and having TWO composting toilets (one up, one down).

    So I know this is a pretty unconventional-looking design, but I reckon it could work rather well. What do you think?

    View attachment 2887

    FYI my earlier thread addressing the question of having only a couple of metres of head for the shower https://forums.permaculturenews.org...for-the-home-how-much-head-do-you-really-need
     

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  2. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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    I actually like tiered homes on hillsides. Separating sleeping areas from living areas ensures quiet no matter what's going on in the main house.

    I am making the assumption that your water storage tanks will be fed directly from the roof (by gravity). So the relationships between roof/gutter > Storage Tanks > Kitchen > Shower will give your head/pressure and supply pipe diameters your flow.
    In your design, higher ceiling and low roof pitch will maximize the elevation of the storage tanks (keep your roof outflow as high as possible) which will enable your tanks to be located higher (and be taller), increasing the head to your kitchen. Higher ceilings also give an expansive feel to the living space and in your wonderful climate won't detract from heating concerns. Higher ceilings will also likely help summer cooling with proper venting located high up to create natural air flow.

    While perhaps not esthetically as pleasing as a single level, sinking your kitchen from the living area, even if only one step down, will help maximize your head from the tanks. If you find water flow to the kitchen to be inadequate, something like this can help keep the dishwashers in the family happy:
    [​IMG]
    https://www.whalepumps.com/Marine/product.aspx?Category_ID=10016&Product_ID=10024&FriendlyID=Whale-Gusher-Galley-Pump-foot-operated

     
  3. TLP

    TLP Junior Member

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    If you want to optimize your plumbing keep all plumbing close to each other with short pipe runs, and locate the water heater close to save water waiting for heat. Venturi's can also manipulate pressure and flow. HVAC cost to heat to units can get expensive, so can foundation.
     
  4. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    Well, since you asked, spud :)

    We tried the separate sleeping quarters and it's miserable. It's no fun going between the two buildings after dark or before sunrise, in the cold or wind or rain or sometimes frost/ice on the path, especially now that we carry our laptops with us. That means cords and slippery walkways and WiFi all going back and forth. And if you forget something, trips back and forth are a real drag, shoes, slippers, jackets, etc get wet and track a lot of unwanted moisture/dust/leaf litter around.

    Sometimes I want to sit in bed and do some email or looking at things on the laptop with something hot to drink, and having to go back and forth to do that just ruins that nice, cozy early transitional period. Trying to have two sets of coffee pots, cups, cream, sugar, and walking dirty dishes back to the kitchen, it's no fun. Since we swapped out the disconnected bedroom and made it a family room, it is sooooooo much more cozy and comfortable.

    Even Frank Lloyd Wright said always build just downhill from the top of the hill, so there's another vote for staying off the top. Wind seems to be a very destructive thing, and to stay out of it helps with accessing your house comfortably with armsfull of groceries or firewood, keeping heat in it (especially passive solar), and lets you have a much more restful night's sleep when it's raging outside with wind and rain.

    In looking at your drawing, not sure where your sunny wall is, but if it is where your veranda is, then a big overhang there will keep you from getting passive solar. As I mentioned in another post of yours, that living/dining wall for us is unobstructed windows. There is a very nice and comfortable sitting area on the sunrise end of the building. A deck there with no overhang would be great, and you could use a couple of big umbrellas for sitting out that could be put away during a storm, or lowered or moved for the most sun access.

    When we had a 2-story house, it seems like every time I was upstairs, what I wanted was downstairs. And when I was downstairs, what I wanted was upstairs. The carpeting on the stairs got worn down quickly, they constantly needed vacuuming, which is a real strain on the solar, and I was weary of having to do it. That is another instance where going up and down with laptops is risky. I just so love to walk straight down a hall to the kitchen/dining area when I'm not quite awake, especially if it's dark, the middle of the night, and you hear something strange or you just don't want to have to deal with stairs, or have older parents dealing with stairs.


    A long, narrow foundation on the side of a hill is a lot easier to build than a wide, square one, and may not require an engineered retaining wall on the uphill side. If you can work in the bedrooms downstairs on the sunrise end (so you can get passive solar heat on the sunset end) all on the same level, then later if you want to build up you always can. Your foundation would already be in place, and you would know how living there works for you by then.

    I also don't like to have to get up on top of a 2-story roof. And there are plenty of reasons to have to do it, especially cleaning gutters and very high windows, and repainting very high walls. Rural maintenance can be a real drag, so keeping everything simple, on one story, makes it easier.

    Manufactured homes tend to be long and narrow and have well-designed floor plans, they fit a lot economically into a small space, and might be interesting to check out their floor plans.

    https://thehomeoutletaz.com/singlewide-mobile-homes/
     
  5. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    9andalf, thanks for the pump info!! :)
     
  6. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    Spud, about the composting toilet, you've got it on a wall that is centered on your veranda/seating area, which means it's going to vent there, and you probably don't want that. It will also contribute scent to both of the bedrooms you've got on either side of it. Even if it is a floor-of-the-forest scent, it's better to have it venting away from any seating area or windows into bedrooms, etc. Even if you vented it over the top of the roof of your separate bedroom area, will it blow into the open windows/doors/seating area of the living area of the house? And that pipe would be visible from anywhere you sit.

    It does help to have a long exterior black vent pipe on the sunny side of the house so that the sun will heat up the pipe and the air will rise, drawing it upward and out the top, so locating it where that is possible is good.
     
  7. spud

    spud Junior Member

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    Thank you 9andalf and sweetpea - some very very helpful information and insights!

    Sweetpea I'm checking out those long narrow "singlewide" homes you've mentioned. Thanks!
     
  8. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    One more thing I thought of, because I love doing real estate stuff! Everything we do in these places is hard work, smart work and we are trying to tip things into using natural processes, and that's good for people who are into that. But unless we know for absolute sure we will stay in these places, all of our hard work will not works towards improving the property value if no one wants to buy something so on the edge. While having a separate sleeping area may work for some, it rarely is a sale-able feature. Only having a compost toilet isn't a sale-able feature. So be sure to plumb at least one spot for a real toilet, even if you don't install one, maybe next to a washing machine area. Then if you need to sell you are prepared.

    It is smarter tax-wise where I am to stay with the original property and keep taxes low. So planning on moving up, buying and buying can often be feasible for affording the property, but taxes are forever, and you don't always want to have to make a lot of money to pay for high, repeating expenses.

    It's also taken at least the first 7 years to get all of the infrastructure in correctly, and at about year 10 things started to need replacing or improving, so it's a constant process, yet starting over would be a huge endeavor. Life is easier now that we just tweak what we've got, and we know where the weak links are. There are always a few surprises, but not many, and *crossing fingerrs* no big ones.

    You are going to be really gung-ho during the original building process, so try to cover as many foundation bases as you can. All types of housing projects are cheaper now, and will only get more expensive, even when it comes to paint. You will save yourself a lot of work years down the road if you don't scrimp on quality.

    It may go on a little too long and partners can get grouchy or disinterested, and that's something else that can only be learned as you go, unless one person says, I'm good for two years of this, no more. Believe them when they say this. And you may think it's a complete lifestyle to continue on with never-ending projects. I have yet to be able to convince my husband that he will love this stuff as much as I do, and we are going on 25 years of rural living. He doesn't, even if he has a good time using what's here, he doesn't like spending time starting from scratch over and over and over on projects.
     
  9. spud

    spud Junior Member

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    Thank you, sweetpea. That's some very fine advice. Although at this stage we expect this will be our "forever home", I suppose most people do until they don't.

    So I'm looking at other designs that don't involve a separate sleeping quarters, and I'll certainly look at making allowances for things like normal toilets like you've suggested, especially if it's as simple as leaving a little extra space/plumbing!

    I'm glad you love talking real estate because I'm ever appreciative of your thoughts on this!!
     
  10. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    spud, you are welcome! It's one of our biggest investments in life, and it should be a wonderful achievement we can be proud of, even if we make mistakes along the way, and I've made plenty! Mother Nature is a tough co-worker!

    I should mention that after 15 years using a composting toilet my husband is pretty much done with it, so he should have a real one if he wants it. It just creeps him out, even though he's tried and likes the idea. But sometimes the reality of it just doesn't work in the long run. There's plenty to deal with in a rural place, so making it good for everyone helps the rest of it go smoothly.

    I thought of one other thing, when raising kids or even having kids visit, going between buildings gets tricky, not just in bad and cold weather, but they also get the idea that they can open the door and go outside, and sometimes they do that in the middle of the night when everyone is sleeping. It can get dangerous. And if one is sick you're going to want a bathtub and lots of hot water, warm milk, and places to puke and spend time adding to the composting toilet! Washing diapers and muddy clothes, feedings at odd hours, and all of those things are chaotic enough without having a three year old on the loose while a baby is sick and everyone is up trying to get things back to normal. :)
     
  11. Mudman

    Mudman Junior Member

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    Hi there Spud,
    Always fun designing a house.
    A few questions to help us along.
    - Where is the house to be built, place and climate. Would be a cold walk to the bedrooms if you had 6 months of snow.
    - Where is north/south and which hemisphere
    - Are the contours 1m, if they are there is a 5m fall across the house, would be more cost effective to use the slope and put the bedrooms underneath. Locating the house parallel to the also requires less earthworks
    - What is surrounding the house, bushland, other houses? House on the top of a hill is a big no-no if you are in a bushfire area
    - Would be better to locate the house a bit lower down the hill, header tank at the top and a small pump to get the water up the hill, maybe hooked up to a solar panel. You could then spread the house along the contours
    - looks like the only toilet is in the sleeping area, that would be annoying if you had to walk down their everytime you had to go to the toilet.
    Cheers
    Kurt
     
  12. rmcpb

    rmcpb Junior Member

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    Not too sure gravity feeding is such a problem these days with cheap solar pumps. Why not just collect the water and pump it into a small header tank on a tower? I also vote for getting down off the top of the hill but pavilion living is great if you get the uses of the different rooms right.
     

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