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Building Codes Creating a Barrier for Water-Saving System

Posted February 13, 2008
Updated February 14, 2008

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— An innovation that could save millions of gallons of water is not allowed under state building codes – systems that can pump filtered rain water into homes for non-drinking uses.

"This is the tank, and as you can see, it's full of water from the rain today," Rex Bost with Bost Custom Homes said as he showed an irrigation system to WRAL.

Bost designed his system so that rain coming off his roof and other areas would flow into a massive underground tank. He has used the system for years to water his grass.

As Raleigh's water supply continues to drop, Bost came up with a plan to conserve even more water.

"I thought it made no sense to be flushing potable water, processed water down the toilets," he said.

Bost installed extra piping in a home he built in Franklin County in hopes of sending rain water from the tanks into the house to flush the toilets.

"Then I learned that the codes would not allow us to do that without first processing the water," Bost said.

The codes could soon change, though, according to Dan Tingen, chairman of the North Carolina Building Code Council.

"I have every reason to think that that will move forward and at least allow and set aside a system that will encourage homeowners, developers and builders to create rainwater-harvesting systems with the idea that that water will be funneled back into the house for things like flushing toilets," Tingen said.

The big question is just how much will it cost to pump filtered rain water into your home.

WRAL was told that a tank costs about $10,000.

Bost said running pipes into a new home cost under $500, which is an investment some homeowners will sure to be looking into as the drought continues.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which manages Falls Lake, issued a forecast last week that suggested the lake, which is Raleigh's primary source of drinking water, would run dry this summer.

State officials are urging residents to conserve water because of waning supplies and the prospect that conditions could get worse. The National Weather Service expects the next three months to be dryer than normal.

32 Comments

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  • Southern Fried Yankee Feb 14, 2008

    I've been doing a little math....If you had a 48 inch diameter cylinder 12 feet tall...cut out 1/4 of it as if it was a pie with a big wedge missing...Attach it to the corner of a house and the gutter...The volume of water capable of being contained is about 845 gallons...That's about equal to twenty-one 40 gallon water heaters.....That's more than one "unit" as measured by Raleigh Water Co. for pricing.....Methinks the engineering could be worked out wherein that cylinder could be made of plastic, attached to the house for structural loadings and be something worth doing to conserve some roof runoff....It could even have some mesh on the outside of it for the ivy to climb so it's not ugly.....Maybe even paintable?

    Whaddya think?

  • krispixVT Feb 14, 2008

    This article is just to make headlines. I work with the NC Plumbing Code every day, and there is nowhere in which it says you can not use storm water for flushing toilets and irrigation. It states that potable water must be used for cooking, bathing, and culinary purposes... that's it.

  • foetine Feb 14, 2008

    This idea is really great if you actually live in a house with enough yard for a tank. And if your monthly water bill was more than $30 a month. In order to "save" off this $10,000 tank, I'll have to go 33 years.

  • room Feb 14, 2008

    Some of the comments I read on here are ridiculous. I grew up drinking cistern water. Rain fell on the house and barn roof and flowed into the cistern. Was filtered over some rocks. We all lived. Once we drank, flushed, bathed the water then went into the septic system to be filtered by the earth for use later. The same water you are drinking today was "flushed" by someone decades and centuries ago. As far as mixing up water lines and your toilet water mixing with clean water, well that is beyond me. I am not a plumber, but I did redo all the pipes in my home. The sewer pipes are much bigger than water pipes. I had no problem figuring out which was which. There is a huge difference between water and sewer pipes. The sewer pipes when not connected stink. The water pipes when not connected leak water. Whats to understand? I imagine the reason there are codes against cisterns,is due to loss of money and dumb people who were elected/appointed and have no idea what they are legislating.

  • TheWB Feb 14, 2008

    kmanc4s- The reason it works so well is for them is that they get a lot of rain, much more than we do. Their problem is they have lots of salt water but little fresh water and little land to build reservoirs and such.

  • methinkthis Feb 14, 2008

    Stuck on stupid?
    "The drought will pass..." With no controls on growth, who needs a drought to have a water shortage problem? Are people having to dig wells deeper now also?

    In Bermuda capturing water run off is a requirement. As other's have said having cisterns is nothing new. $10,000 is 5% of $200,000. Most new houses in the area cost more than $200K so the add on expense is small and reasonable for added value to homeowner and community. Upgrades in code should include not only capturing water outside for use outside or even flushing toilets but also restructuring of plumbing inside of house to include providing hot water at point of use. I can fill 2-3 gallon jugs before hot water gets to my master bathroom. I capture some for other uses. Instant hot water saves energy as well as water.

    The need for code improvements is immediate and critical. Does the process allow for something to happen in this decade?

  • SaveEnergyMan Feb 14, 2008

    Building codes are designed to protect us from unscrupulous contractors and ourselves when we do things without thinking things through. I can understand why cisterns aren't allowed for interior water needs - the potential for connecting to the wrong pipe and contaminating the house water system. Anyone remember the recycled (treated sewer) water problem Cary had - contractors accidently hooked up the house to the wrong pipe. With proper controls and labeling, it should be legal to use cistern water. That's what the building code needs to accomplish. I doubt it's some government conspiracy - it's all about liability and what might happen.

  • I know some stuff Feb 14, 2008

    hmmm, let me understand this sillyness:
    we have a water shortage, because we don't get enough rain to fill that big bucket, called 'the lake'.
    however, that same rain that we do NOT have, will fill a $10,000 cistern under that hypothetical house. Must be magic.

  • PeaceOut2017 Feb 14, 2008

    beats lugging those heavy rain barrels to the bathroom to flush the toilets

  • smalldogsrule Feb 14, 2008

    I think that the Government is opposed to allowing toilets and irrigation be hooked to the house because they can't charge for it. I have wondered for a long time why we cant have our homes on a system like cruise ships that collect grey water (frome shower drains and laundry)and recycle it to our toilets.

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