Tag Archives: permit

The back porch project

And a project it is!

We knew pretty much from the beginning that the back porch would need to be replaced. It may look sort of OK from the outside, but the bones are rather ailing.

Because it was an enclosed porch, we had planned to rebuild it as an enclosed porch. That got us into a whole lot of trouble, starting with zoning. Not only did we have to apply for an administrative adjustment because our building set backs weren’t right, but we also found out that the currently existing enclosed porch was never permitted. Setting this right rested on our shoulders. The good news is that another administrative adjustment and a $250 fee got us a permit for a new enclosed porch.



Nice porch, isn’t it? And expensive, too, as we quickly found out. We knew that we didn’t want to spend that kind of money, but still tip-toed around the issue for a couple of years. Then, our neighbors got their back porch replaced – a typical open, Chicago-style back porch. That made us realize that an enclosed back porch is more a “want” than a “need.”

We already have 1,500 square feet of living space on the 1st and 2nd floor – which is a lot for an old building like ours. Adding another 250 square feet of conditioned space seemed too much of a luxury, certainly at that price tag.

Changing plans

So, we decided to instead build an open porch, with the exception of the basement level where we can have a workshop and tool and bicycle storage. We also decided to keep the roof access to our future vegetable garden, the PV, and the Solar Hot Water panels.


We also decided to keep our options open. If we want to turn the back porch into a three season room or sleeping porch at one point, we should be able to do so. That would require us to waterproof each porch floor, but we can plan for that.

The building permit we currently have includes the porch … except that the porch we now plan on building is different from the porch on the permit plans. I hate to admit it, but we need to pull another building permit, just for the porch.

This time around I won’t have to do it, but rather we will have our porch contractor take care of it. It’s nice to have that task delegated, except that the contractor isn’t a great communicator. Let’s see where that will take us…

While we wait for the plans and permit, I have some serious prep work to do, like that old grease trap, which we temporarily turned into a sump pit.

Related posts:

Zoning surprise

Zoning – the process

Dusting off the wish list

The green roof dream

Grease trap cleaning

Nail biter


DWV Part 3 – visions

We have more exciting plans for the future, beyond a greywater system. At one point we would like to convert the former pantry into a small half bathroom. It would have a tiny corner sink and – drum roll – a composting toilet!

Sadly, that would get us onto a serious collision course with the Chicago Plumbing Code and probably the Department of Health too. Our objective is to find a solution that is code compliant today, but allow for a simple ‘plug and play’ switch once the codes are brought up to date.

What if…

… composting toilets will not be allowed anytime soon? That is a real probability because of the prejudice that exists around this technology.

Furthermore, composting toilets require regular maintenance, which worries the regulatory agencies. In other words, if a composting toilet is not maintained, it may become a health hazard.

The tertiary stack

Another DWV stack – a tertiary stack – should help us to solve this problem.

I described the primary stack (blackwater stack) and the secondary stack (greywater stack). The tertiary stack is also a blackwater stack located at the back of the basement with connection to the underground sewer.

This tertiary stack would initially serve a regular low-flow toilet in the half-bath room. Once the code is updated we can remove the regular low flow toilet, retire the connection to the tertiary stack, and install the composting toilet.

The composting toilet does not require a connection to the DWV plumbing or the sewer. It is a standalone system that has a collection chamber where the human waste is composted and turned into organic matter.


DWV Part 2 – details

We need to structure our DWV system in a way that allows us to separate the blackwater from recyclable greywater. That requires scrutiny of all waste water sources in the building and to assign them to the one or the other category.

Discharge from the toilet contains human waste and as such is blackwater. This is easy.

But what about the kitchen sink and dishwasher? Waste water from these sources is typically considered greywater. We are, however, concerned about the contamination potential through food scraps.

To keep things simple and to have peace of mind, we made the decision to discharge waste water from the kitchen sources with the blackwater and not recycle it.

Drain water from the shower and bathtub, on the other hand, is a perfect source of recyclable greywater. So is the water from the bathroom sink, except that there will be very little of it considering our low flow faucets at 0.5 gpm.

Last but not least, there is the washing machine in the basement, the waste water from which is also a good greywater source.

Let’s see how the categorizing of these sources fits with or impacts the DWV layout.

Structuring the sewer

The entire basement DVW plumbing was dictated by flood prevention concerns. We solved the problem by separating the basement DWV from the other floors and protected it with a check valve.

This solution has one drawback. The layout prevents us from collecting or recycling greywater from the basement fixtures. (The exception is the washing machine.)

The basement DVW system as well as the upstairs bathroom layout determined the location of the main sewer stack (or blackwater stack) that will serve the 1st and 2nd floors. It will carry the waste water from the toilets, kitchen sinks and dishwashers.

The 1st and 2nd floor bathroom showers and floor drains are connected to a secondary stack, which is a dedicated greywater stack. Right now this secondary or greywater stack is connected to the basement DWV system to comply with the Chicago plumbing code.

However, once the collection and recycling of greywater becomes permissible, we will be ready for it. We can insert a small collection tank with a little sump pump at the bottom of the stack. The small collection tank would still have an emergency connection to the basement DWV plumbing (as is the case now) in case of a power outage of failure of the sump pump.

The sump would pump the geywater from the small collection tank to a gravity filter from where it would flow into the final storage tank.

That takes care of everything, except the waste water from the bathroom faucet, which is some distance from the greywater stack, but right next to the blackwater stack. We probably could figure out how to connect it to the greywater stack. But is it worth considering the faucet flow rate of 0.5 gpm and the miniscule amount of waste water produced?

We always could go with an off-the-shelf greywater system, which is installed under the sink and routes the filtered waste water into the adjacent toilet tank for flushing. That is, once these systems are permitted by the Chicago Plumbing Code.

The waste heat layer

This exercise got us to think about solutions for greywater recycling. But there is another waste product that we didn’t want to ignore:  the waste heat in the greywater.

To recapture the waste heat we installed a drain water heat recovery (DWHR) system.

Going a few posts back you can read up on how we scrutinized the sources of waste heat, weather it comes from a greywater or blackwater source, and determined how it would impact the DWV layout.

We ended up placing the DWHR unit at the bottom of the greywater stack, just above the future collection tank.


Why that storm sewer?

Some of you who have read the ‘Permit – open plan review’ post, or who have noted the storm sewer in the ‘New sewer layout’ post, who know the 168 Elm pilot project and our attitude towards stormwater management may wonder why we spend money on a new storm sewer connection.

Disconnecting roof downspouts in Chicago is a tricky subject. The Chicago Green Homes Program encourages disconnecting downspouts from the sewer system. The Department of Water Management and Department of Environment are working hard on incentivizing disconnections. There is even a building code section that addresses this issue (Chapter 18-29-1101.2):

“1. Nothing in this provision shall prohibit the temporary or permanent disconnection of the roof downspout of a building from the sewer or combined sewer so long as the disconnection does not result in the drainage of water beyond the property lines of the lot on which the building is located.

2. Roofs of single-family (Class A-1) and multiple-family (Class A-2) buildings may be provided with external downspouts discharging onto a paved or landscaped area, provided the water thus discharged can be drained directly to an area drain, catch basin or street gutter connected to a public sewer, without spilling over onto adjacent property creating a public hazard or nuisance.”

That said, the plumbing inspector in the Department of Building won’t have any of it. When I raised the issue during the open plan review, I was told in no uncertain terms that disconnecting the downspouts is not an option. I would not receive project approval unless I showed a downspout to sewer connection on the plans.

I have to admit that I did not show up with engineering drawings and calculations that would have shown how I will manage the roof runoff on the property without flooding my neighbors. I think I would not have signed off either without a complete and sound design.

But when I asked for my options, like I did with the 1 inch water service, I was given none, despite the above stated code section, and despite existing precedence in Chicago.

So – do I want to fight over the disconnection, or would I rather keep a storm sewer connection?

I’d rather keep the connection to get the city’s approval and to keep going with the project. Once we are done, we may disconnect after all, if the sustainable stormwater treatment methods in the yard can handle all the runoff.

The primary rationale to deny downspout disconnections is to assure the public’s health, safety and welfare. How would a connection to the storm sewer help with that public health, safety and welfare, considering that the combined sewer system in Chicago is readily overwhelmed? Wouldn’t it just add to the flooding? Wouldn’t it be safer to siphon some of that water off and manage it outside the sewer system?

I have difficulties following the rationales and reasoning of the inspector.


The water service problem

I got freaked out pretty badly in the open plan review meeting over the code-required water service upgrade from 1 inch to 1 ½ inch, mainly because of the additional $10k to $15k price tag.

Once I got over the initial shock, I asked the plumbing reviewer what options I would have if I didn’t want to upgrade. Asking doesn’t hurt, right? To my surprise, I was presented with the following option (I paraphrase):

“If you can get a code variance letter from the commissioner of the Department of Water Management (DWM) saying that they are OK with the existing 1 inch water service, then we will be OK with it.”

I felt much better already, even though I had no clue to what my chances were to actually get that code variance.

The next logical step was to get on the phone with the plumbing inspectors at the DWM to present my case. I explained that we have applied for a green permit, that we are rehabilitating a three unit building and that we have plans for exceptional water management with all the low flow fixtures.

I was delighted to notice that the inspector was actually willing to evaluate if the 1 inch service line would suffice for the project. He asked for the plans and product information on all fixtures, which I e-mailed him right away.

Based on this information, the plumbing inspector added up all fixtures and developed a worst-case scenario. It is basically a calculation of how many gallons per minute (gpm) are needed at peak use and whether the existing 1 inch water service can deliver that amount.

More good news! It appears that the existing 1 inch service must do the job, because I was asked to submit a formal letter in which I applied for the variance. My case was presented to the commissioner and I received the variance approval shortly thereafter.

I took the letter back into another open plan review meeting, in which I received the missing final sign-off for the plumbing. All plans and documents went back to our green permit project manager who issued the permit a couple of days later. It was time to celebrate – and we did!

The water service issue added another two week delay to the green permit process and made me jump through a few more hoops (thank God I am somewhat fit!). It also saved us $10k to $15k, which we had not included in the budget. Plus, the green permit means we had no permit fees. Not such a bad deal after all!