Saturday 4 September 2010


"There can be no black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of Nature and has his senses stilled. .........The gentle rain which waters my beans and keeps me in the house today is not drear and melancholy, but good for me too."

Thus said Henry Thoreau in 1854 as he lived in his hand-built timber hut on the edge of Waldon Pond, Massachussetts in what modern reviewers now seem to call 'an experiment in self-sufficiency'.

This image, seen through the lens of our transition work, is both heartening and somehow unsettling. It has become a bit of a modern cliche that we have 'lost contact with Nature' and it's easy to be critical of our urban way of life, which actually has given us great freedoms (as well as responsibilities).

For me, the message in Henry Thoreau's life - which at the time was very much about decrying the modernism happening then in America - is: how do we capture that spirit of living in the midst of Nature, in a city.

So - making a poetic quantum leap - I am writing today about butts. Water butts.

Here's a picture of mine. It doesn't actually water my beans, but my loo.

I live in a typical Victorian terrace house in Norwich, with myself and my 3 bicycles. Sadly, being a small terrace, I have no garden. So what to do with all that water that sometimes gushes down the drain off my roof?

For the geeks amongst you, here are some of the technical bits, although I like to think its all pretty lo-tech: the butt is mounted on a timber frame, and collects water from the main run-off from my rear-facing roof - it's a standard 250 litre butt which costs about 20 quid.

It's plumbed directly into my cystern ( my bathroom is on the ground floor, so it works by gravity). If the butt is empty, I have a couple of valves which I switch around so that the loo reverts to mains water if I need it. The whole lot cost less than 100 quid to do, and in the first year of use it resulted in a 36% reduction on my mains water use. I used mains water for the loo for 22 days out of 365 that year.

Ever since I have had this system, I have become much more sensitised to the rain, the sound of it trickling, or sometimes gushing, into the butt, the dry periods, my allround use of water in the home.

So I reckon Henry would be proud, even if I do live in the City.


  1. Lovely post! Forgive me for asking but how do you stop your butt wobbling? Or more politely how is it secured at that height?

    Andy (o:

  2. Inspiring stuff Chris!

  3. Rainwater flushing toilet in the fine city!! O: i feel a skillshare session at someones house approaching... any takers?