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Small Cabin Forum / Off-Grid Living / Book Critique -Country and cottage water systems by Max Burns; 2010 edition
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# Posted: 25 Sep 2010 00:29

I eagerly pre-ordered the above book from Amazon Canada and got it this week, the first week it came out, and started tearing through it right away.

I was eager to find off-grid water options and detailed how-to's, and there were some but some others were lacking in my opinion.

On the plus side, the book details numerous options and provides plans on building a leaching pit to meet most codes along with septic systems, well-water issues and detailed outhouse plans with great illustrations. In particular, there was a dry-stack cinder-block leaching pit that is very interesting and I think a job that most people could do themselves, also well illustrated. There is also a detailed formula to determine proper sizing for the pit, and how to perform a soil percolation test.

Another option to a leaching pit for grey water is a wetland, which is discussed in the book, but there is no advice about how to execute one, which I think would have been helpful for backwood folks so as to figure out if it would be doable in your area or what happens in winter.

I think that this book is more meant for a cottage that has power and a well, or people living full-time off-grid that have the incentive to put in large-scale systems that rely on solar power, as oposed to off-grid weekend cabin owners, so I was a little disapointed to have to skip over so many "options" that required power, however it does address solar pumps and wind-powered pumps., but does not give you much info about executing any of these.

There are also several water filtration options presented but most require power, and again, there is no advice about sourcing the stuff.

Perhaps this was done deliberately so as to not promote someone else's wares without monetary compensation, however I think that such concerns should be reconciled with potential benefit to the reader.

It did have a page on hand pumps, and the author mentions that only a few companies are still making the old-standy iron pump, and then he talks about the modern versions, and even mentions some names, but it's not clear that those names were actually the brands, and I would have appreciated a buying or resource guide about how to get those things.

There is a discussion on composting toilets, but it is clear that the author favours outhouses, and it appears to the reader that composting toilets are discouraged. For instance, it was mentioned that dangerous pathogens can survive composting, thus, the author advises that compost resulting from a composting toilet should under no circumstances be used in a vegetable garden as dormant pathogens can "awaken" when re-ingested. This flies in the face of everything else I have read about the composting process, so I would have appreciated a reference in support of that statement that I could further investigate. He also criticizes the proprietary bulking agents that are to be used with composting toilets, but I know that it is possible to mix your own. Also, the discussion about composting toilets puts much emphasis on the chance that the composting process could go terribly wrong.

So really, this book has lots of advice about options, but not all options are detailed with a how-to or advice as to where to get the essential parts to execute them. The outhouse discussion and the criticisms of composting toilets made me feel like I was reading a book written by an old-fashioned man nostalgic about the old ways of doing things, largely rejecting new methods. That was just my impression, I have no idea how old the author is.

What I have mainly taken from this book is the detailed outhouse plans in the event we ever want to build a new one, and lots of helpful information about building a proper grey water system. There are many very beautiful and detailed illustrations as well of various leaching pits and septic systems, and further, I don't think that there is any other book like this out on the market as far as I know.

For my needs (part-time off-grid) and expectations, and what I already knew through my own research, and due to the lack of a resource guide, I would give this book 2.5 stars out of 5.

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