Homestead Septic System: Do It Yourself (Mostly)

| 5/12/2011 2:20:30 PM

Tags: septic system, septic tank, backhoe, leaching field, leach rock, composting toilet, gray water, black water, Dave Larson,

Dave L HeadshotOne of the issues Barbara and I had agreed upon when we started our desert homestead was that we would use composting toilets. The idea that humans take nutrients from the soil, process it through their bodies as food, and then turn the unused nutrients, especially nitrogen, into a toxic waste dump just didn’t sit right with us.

We had installed the plumbing in our first buildings to drain waste gray water from laundry and showers out to our thirsty trees. We had a composting toilet in the straw bale Annex (utility building) which ultimately fed the soil in our orchard and garden. We thought we were all set.

Then we ran into the intertwining of our local phone service and county building codes. To live in the desert and write for a living, we needed internet access. To get a phone line with internet access, we needed a physical address. To get an address, we needed a building permit. To get a permit, we needed an approved septic system.

Straw Bale House Start 

We were building under an inspectionless permit called the owner/builder opt-out that allows a great deal of freedom for rural residents in this county. Unfortunately, the County P & Z permit office is not amenable to composting toilets. So, rather than taking on an ongoing and probably fruitless fight to get our composting system approved, we caved in and put in a septic system.

Thankfully, we live in a wonderful community of independent and helpful people. One of our neighbors is a licensed septic installer who agreed to do our soil leaching test. As a friendly gesture and as part of his very reasonable fee, Frank designed an approvable system that I could do myself. He recommended a nearby tank and pipe vendor for the septic tank, leaching rock, and pipe and we were in business again.

david larson
9/25/2012 7:53:26 PM

Ron Sorry its taken so long to get back to you. We live in Cochise County, AZ. Try me at I have, unfortunately, been neglecting this blog while I build my new site. I would be happy to share what we did for our owner-opt out here in Cochise Co. - I am about 10 mi west of Sundites near the Natl. Forest. Have a good day

westbound southerner
5/26/2011 2:43:35 PM

Dave,I so admire your determination and being able to do what you can do and accept what you can't do your own way! When I grow up I want to be just like you! Best wishes on your dream living!!!!!

sigourney perez
5/25/2011 2:36:52 AM

Hi Dave: do you know if Pima County has the owner/builder opt out?

5/24/2011 2:25:12 PM

Hello Dave. I find your story interesting. I live just east of Tucson in Cochise County. Tell me more about the owner/builder opt-out. Which county has that? Ron

nebraska dave
5/13/2011 7:17:34 PM

Dave, you know we had a composting toilet back in my early youth days. It was called an outhouse and had a half moon on the door. It even came in a two hole version. I don't think we ever used the compost from it though. :0) Ordinances can definitely cramp an outside the box thinking person's style can't it? Thanks for sharing all your great ideas and accomplishments with us. Have a great septic/composting toilet day.

off the grid
5/13/2011 12:02:58 PM

Great story! Always love reading your blog. We are fortunate that our property is in a very rural area that has a basic form of regs and no zoning resolution!! Yeeeha! =)

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