Notes from Windward: #58

Working on the dining hall

This drawing will give you an idea of our current planning on the interior layout of the dining hall. It's subject to substantial change as we chew on the design trying to come up with the most efficient and desirable ways to do things. One of the great advantages of CAD drawings is that it's very easy to make changes as we work through the process of visioning the completed structure.

As you look at these drawings, north is up and south is down. With the north side of the building consisting of a concrete wall, we want to have as many windows in the south wall as is reasonable. In addition, we're planning to use skylights to enhance the interior lighting. Since there aren't any windows in the long, northern side of the building, we can "splurge" on windows for the southern side.

Close-up of the western half of the dining hall

The western-most room is a combination laundryroom, dishwashing center and pantry. All of our structures are multi-purpose, with the dining hall being more so than most. The unit in the north-east corner of this room is the propane-fired, flow-through water heater. This type of device heats the water as it passes through, with is much more efficient since no energy is expended keeping water hot in between users.

The upper-most room is will have a toilet and a hand-washing sink, while the room below it will provide a general use shower. One problem that we always have to keep in mind involves preserving and protecting our septic system. Folks who are used to city sewer systems think nothing of taking long, relaxing showers. The problem with there is that if four or five people take 20 minute showers, that's around 500 gallons of water going down the drain.

Septic tanks are designed to hold sewage long enough for bacteria to break down the wastes before the effluent passes on to the drain field. By running that much water a day through the septic tank, the bacteria won't have time to process the waste, with a premature drain-field failure as a result. Rather than wasting our breath telling people over and over again to take short showers, it's the Windward way to build a solution such that people will be able to enjoy themselves, get clean and not harm the system.

In this case, we'll accomplish that by putting in a second, special-design septic tank and drain field. The waste that comes from a toilet is called "black water" while the waste from a shower or washing machine is referred to as "gray water." While gray water still needs to handled and disposed of appropriately, it's biological load is much less than black water and different things can be done with it.

An example would be to route that gray water to a series of terraced flower beds. You wouldn't want to use gray water on vegetable destined for the table, but there's lots of things we want to grow, such as flax for spinning or flowers for pressing, that need water. It just doesn't make any more sense to use potable water on a flower garden than it does to overfill a septic tank with shower water. By linking the two things up, we can get double use from each gallon of water we pump out of the ground.

This also protects our septic system in another way. We use chlorine bleach to brighten our clothes and sanitize our dishes. So far, so good, but any active chlorine that goes down the drain will also kill off some of the good bacteria in our septic tank. On one hand, using too much chlorine can damage our drain field, but on the other hand, using too little could mean that someone might get sick from poorly sanitized kitchenware. As ever, the challenge lies in striking the correct balance. Having separate septic systems for gray and black water gives us the options we need to do it right for the long run.

This layout will minimize the distance hot water has to travel. Since people run the water until it gets up to temperature, the longer the run, the more water that's wasted. In addition to the usual uses for hot water, we'll also be doing some things you might not expect. For example, we'll be including special tubing in the concrete slabs which will form the floors of the toilet and shower rooms. Hot water from the on-demand water heater will be circulated through these tubes to provide heat for these rooms.

Because of the water involved, these two rooms will need to have tiled floors. One serious shortcoming of tile floors is that they're chronically cold in winter. Stepping out of a hot shower onto a cold tile floor leaves a lot to be desired. By heating the floor, we can eliminate that problem and heat the room at the same time.

Close-up of the eastern half of the dining hall

The eastern side of the dining hall isn't as busy as the western side, but it still has some details worth noting. The eastern most room is called the "mud room" since that's where people will enter the dining hall. They can wash up at the sinks on the north wall, and in winter, they can trade their muddy boots for warm slippers. Nobody enjoys mopping floors, and having a mud room will greatly lessen the need to do it.

Also, when the weather is really cold, this room provides an airlock effect between the warm air in the kitchen, and the cold air outside. Keeping the warm air from escaping everytime someone comes in or out, will greatly lessen the amount of heat it will take to keep the kitchen warm.

Wolf is the brand name of our commercial stove. It has a 2 foot square griddle and four large burners. When we're running a full crew, it takes a lot of food to keep up with the appetites, and that's when the Wolf really pulls its weight. In addition to it's large gas-fired oven, we'll also be installing two electric ovens. Having the three ovens really helps when we're having a feast for a couple dozen close personal friends, and wanting to serve multiple entrees at the same time. Also, there are some things that electric ovens do better than gas ovens, and vice-versa. Having options in the kitchen is "a good thing."

Index for Notes Issue # 58 ---- The Windward Home Page