LBC: The Water Petal

December 9th, 2020

Dear Readers,

Thank you so much for sticking with us. I know our blogs have been a lot of research and ideas…although we just purchased a piece of land, we have a lot of design work to do before we start building anything! 

As we began with Living Building Challenge: The Petal of Place, we want our lil’ home, The Seed, to meet Living Building Challenge standards (in addition to PHIUS, of course). In order to meet those standards, the home or building must adhere to the seven ‘petals’ and their imperatives. I know the term ‘petals’ sounds cheesy, but they do set a high expectation for how homes are built, lived in, and what they give back to the ecosystems they are located in. 

The Seven Petals of the Living Building Challenge and their Imperatives

The Water Petal alone is going to be a tough one to meet. However, it is a conundrum that we have already been pondering. Our goal is to rely totally off of our rainwater pillow for all of our potable and non-potable water needs. This, in turn, means that we need to live so water consciously that we are 100% all the time, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, prepared for a drought. It is not going to be easy, but if you have read our composting toilet and recirculating shower blogs, then you know that we have a few ideas bounding about. But are these ideas enough for us to meet the Living Building Challenge’s criteria for the Water Petal?

The Water Petal and its two Imperatives

The Water Petal

The Water Petal has two Imperatives: Responsible Water Use and Net Positive Water.

Responsible Water Use demands a 50% reduction in water use for a new building (in comparison to average buildings in the region), and that no potable water is used for agriculture. All stormwater must be treated on site without chemicals based on pre-developed conditions.1 

The Net Positive Water Imperative calls for all of the project’s water needs to be supplied through rain-water collection, natural closed-loop systems, and/or water recycling. No chemicals may be used to purify the water and potable water cannot be used for non-potable purposes. Grey and black water must be treated on-site. All projects must store enough water to sustain its occupants for one week. There are exceptions to this imperative that allow for connections to municipal systems if necessary or advantageous.2

How these Imperatives will impact us and The Seed, with some help from Shelby on the Side-lines: 

Soooo….a 50% reduction in water use for our home, The Seed, in comparison to the average water use of other buildings in our region…should easily be achievable. Looking at the toilet alone, ⅓ of our water usage now comes from the toilet. A composting toilet, such as the Clivus Multrum, uses very little to no water at all. If we feel luxurious and choose the ‘fancy’ version, a Clivus Multrum foam-flush toilet only uses 6 ounces of water per flush (most toilets use about a gallon and half). Based on the fact that neither William nor I have ever entered a home in our county which uses a composting toilet, or a recirculating shower, or a water recycling system…we would assume that The Seed would use at least 50% less water than average buildings in our region.

Regarding rain-water collection, we intend on harvesting rainwater from our roof and containing it in a rainwater pillow. Coming straight from this pillow, our drinking water will be purified through various sizes of micron filters, a UV light, and a charcoal filter (similar to the system in the Interpretive Center at Alabama’s Gulf State Park). We sure hope that our rainwater pillow, in combination with some clever water-conserving techniques, will be able to comfortably sustain us through a decent drought (which can easily last well over the one week supply required by the LBC…). ‘Comfortably’ is obviously emphasized. We want to be water conservative and conscious, but without having ‘rain anxiety.’ We don’t want to live in fear of a drought. Rather, we just want to be constantly prepared for a drought.

And! Because William and I really do want to rely totally off of our rainwater pillow for all of our potable and non-potable water needs…and thereby we would be relying upon when the Earth decides to precipitate, and therefore participate, in contribution to our rainwater collection…we obviously want to use as little water as possible anyway. Our new motto is about to become: “always use our water as if a drought is just around the corner.” It’s kinda catchy actually…if you put a bit of a rhythm and beat to it…. “Always use our wat-er as if a drought is just around the corn-er.” Ha! Hopefully that will help our kids catch on to our sustainable goals as well. It’s like we are about to brainwash them with a bunch of catchy, yet slightly fear invoking, sayings on conservation. That, right there, is going to be the true joy of parenting. 

As far as the usage of our potable water, we intend to drink it. And use it to cook. And initially use it to clean ourselves…but to help us meet the part about “no potable water is used for agriculture” (and of course further cut down our water usage) we intend to recycle all the water we can. We have been looking into systems that would allow us to reuse our greywater. Our greywater comes from our shower, bathroom sink, and laundry. This water would get cleaned enough to use it again in our garden, and possibly our clothes washing machine.

One system we are particularly interested in for its ease of use, low maintenance, and small size would be the Hydraloop. Using such a system would allow us to not only dramatically cut our water usage by not needing to directly collect rainwater for our garden or laundry, but it would also allow us to “treat” our greywater directly on site. In combination with the composting toilet which turns our black water into fertilizer for plants (yes, apparently even the edible kinds!), these two systems not only save water, but also allow us to not send anything to a sewage facility. We may also have the most beautiful garden around!

Unfortunately, we were advised that the water from the kitchen (the sink and the dishwasher) cannot be sent directly to the Hydraloop because of the potential grease and food particles. Kitchen water is a weird grey zone (ha – pun intended) because it can either be considered greywater or blackwater, depending on who you talk to. Needless to say, Clivus Multrum considers our kitchen water to be greywater, and the Hydraloop considers it to be blackwater – so we don’t know what to do with it. Maybe the kitchen water could go to the Hydraloop if there was a grease trap  between the kitchen and the Hydraloop… thoughts to ponder. If you have any suggestions, please mention them below!

No matter the systems we end up using, when washing our dishes, or our clothes…or ourselves…we should refrain from using cleaning agents that have anything harmful or unnatural in them. If we want to reuse any of that water…then the more free it is from chemicals and dyes and other altered nasties, the cleaner our greywater discharge will be. 

Now for that bit about stormwater. This part of the Responsible Water Use imperative is essentially stating that the stormwater runoff now occurring on the site must be cared for without altering the preexisting conditions. For example, excess runoff now occurring on-site must be evenly distributed so that the sudden extreme rushes of water do not take out natural vegetation or habitats. SINCE! Ha, so much excitement and so many questions are happening all at once in this blog….Since! William and I want to collect the rainwater runoff from our roof and direct it to our rainwater pillow, we hopefully will be lessening the impact of stormwater on natural habitats and vegetation. 

I believe that I covered all of the bases. One thing I know we learned from writing this blog, is that much, much, much more research must be done on greywater, natural closed-loop, and water recycling systems. Maybe we should look to NASA and see how they do it on the International Space Station? 

Just a crazy dog and her favorite creek

So much to do…so much to learn…Sometimes I wish that we could just skip all these research phases and dive straight into building The Seed. You know, just kind of figure it out as we go…improvise. However, to do that would probably result in less of a home and more of a Frankenstein shack thing that only thinks it’s sustainable and safe to live in. And, because we would not have any legitimate research to back our endeavors, the local townsfolk would probably have even more of a reason to think that we are nuts, and come banging on our Frankenstein shack-door with pitchforks and torches, demanding for our precious creation to be burned. Oh well. See ya’ next time!


William (and Shelby!) Aldrich

1International Living Future Institute. Living Building Challenge, Version 4.0, Seattle, 2019. Page 38. 

2. Living Building Challenge, Version 4.0, Page 39. 


  1. Have you set up gauges on the property yet or gone during the rain and made a stormwater run off map?

    • Hey Aunt Deanna! We have not yet, but these are excellent ideas that we will be looking into shortly! We also have plans to try to map out the tree canopies, and analyze the sun’s movements there to understand solar patterns. And do soil tests for our foundation. Thanks for the suggestions! We’re excited to start making our own maps!


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© 2020 Sustaining Tree