A previous comment in response to Jacob’s rainwater harvesting post asked about the legality of rainwater harvesting. This post attempts to answer the question.
Homeowners (or renters) in Michigan have the right to do with their rainwater whatever they please (except put it into a combined storm/sanitary system). Most municipalities have programs to help disconnect downspouts from these systems. There are two main decision points that must be attended to:
- Intended End Use of Captured Water
- New or Existing Home?
For the first, rainwater captured to use on landscaping has no legal requirements. From a public health standpoint, any standing water should be screened to keep mosquitos or other pests from breeding. If you live somewhere with freezing temperatures in the winter, you will need to design your system to be able to drain and not freeze and cause damage.
However, there are more regulations when you get to reusing rainwater for potable water applications. Regulations vary by location. More often than not, the code does not speak to how to do this (see below) but there are many designs available online and elsewhere. Several filtration steps are recommended for any water that will be consumed. (see Jacob’s response to Chris’ questions)
For a new home, things must be done according to code whereas with an existing home, there is more flexibility.
With new construction, to get all the necessary permits and a COO, you will need to have infrastructure connecting with the municipal water system. However, whether you activate or pay for that system is up to you. Depending on your water/ sewer provider, you may be able to cancel water service to your home, but if you still need sewer service, you may be subject to the same fixed costs of that system. In my experience, even when our home uses the bare minimum of water measured (<100 cf), we still pay about $30 for monthly service. The bulk of these charges go to pay for the fixed cost of our water and sewer systems.
For more resources, see these:
- Water page of WARM’s Green Building Guide
- Harvesting Rainwater for Landscape Use: A guide from University of Arizona Extension
- Harvest H20: A great collection of resources about rainwater harvesting
- Oasis Design: a great resources for books, how-to, and laws around harvesting rainwater and gray water
See the following relevant sections from the 2009 Michigan Building Code:
The water distribution and drainage system of any building or premises where plumbing fixtures are installed shall be connected to a public water supply or sewer system, respectively, if available. (p. 569)
P2901.1 Potable Water Required
Dwelling units shall be supplied with potable water in the amounts and pressures specified. [measures to prevent cross contamination must be taken] (p. 581)
Potable Water: Water free from impurities present in amounts sufficient to cause disease or harmful physiological effects and conforming in bacteriological and chemical quality to the requirements of the public health authority having jurisdiction. (p. 18)
WARM Training Center has three unpaid internship positions available (click on for descriptions):
Besides working in an awesome work environment and getting great experience, these internships will be no fun at all. But seriously, if you are authentically interested in advancing sustainability, climate protection, equitably distributed water resources, and energy efficiency in Detroit and the region…these internships are for you. Apply today… the application period closes on September 30th! Thanks.
What would it cost to build a water-catchment system for a home in SE Michigan? Code and other such issues will vary widely, but the actual construction costs are likely to be relatively uniform. I recently discovered that the city of Guelph, Ontario has done some great forward thinking work on encouraging rainwater catchment for their residents. I emailed the folks at Guelph, and they referred me to Ben Polley, a builder with Evolve Builders. Ben provided me with these excellent details about their cost and performance estimates.
Note that these figures include a good number of caveats about current unknowns and several costs that are not included, but they give us a good start on tracking down the overall costs. If you have additional data to round this picture out more, please let us know in the comments below.
Interested in raingardens, greenroofs, porous pavement? These are all techniques that are sometimes used in LID or Low Impact Developments, which avoid the costs and infrastructure problems related to storm water overflow. Instead of running into the sewage system, most of the rainwater is absorbed into the ground onsite where it can be handled in the old fashioned way – through the dirt and biological filters underground.
My spouse and I are probably going to buy a loft in Midtown over the next few weeks. The first step was making a reservation to hold the unit, which we did. Then we’ll meet with the architect to design the space and pick out the floors, counter tops, etc. Then we’ll put a deposit down to start construction. Then we’ll close. I’m writing you because we’re meeting with the architect on Thursday, and I want to know if you could suggest any questions we should ask, options we should explore or requests we should make around making our home the most environmentally friendly and energy efficient it can be. Also, we’ll have to purchase things like a washing machine, dryer, fridge, etc. so advice there would be helpful too.
– Brittany, Detroit
Congratulations! There’s lots of specifics we could get into, depending on the exact details you’re interested in, but here’s the essentials:
1) Energy Star certification — ask what the rating is for these units on the HERS index, which is the measuring system underneath the Energy Star certification process. If they don’t know, then ask them to find out. Try to push them to hire an Energy Star consultant to be able to answer these questions – put it as a consumer rights issue: you should be able to know what to expect out of the energy usage. But know that they probably won’t know and might not agree to find out for you. In which case, you should hire one yourself. You can hire WARM (but there are lots of other great folks too, see this list: http://resnet.us/directory/raters.aspx) to work with you and the architect to figure out how to make this really energy efficient most inexpensively and get real data on what that energy efficiency will cost you, etc. This also becomes useful for possible eventual resale for you. It’s a buyer’s market these days, so hopefully you should be able to get them to run the Energy Star numbers for you. Continue reading “Buying a new home…” »