This section is from the book "The Principles And Practice Of Modern House-Construction", by G. Lister Sutcliffe. Also available from Amazon: How Your House Works: A Visual Guide to Understanding & Maintaining Your Home.
Refuse food should be for the most part burnt, so that the solid house-refuse ought to consist mainly of ashes. The old-fashioned brick dust-bin has now been very advantageously replaced by a movable galvanized iron receptacle with a well-fitting lid, which has the useful qualities of being easily emptied and cleansed, and of being non-absorbent: its superiority to the briek dust-bin, from a sanitary point of view, admits of no dispute. It should be emptied often - not less than twice a week in summer and once in winter.
The waste water from a house is charged with putrescible organic matter, and is rich in soapy and fatty substances and dirt of various kinds. In a town not provided with water-closets it is this which, diluted with rain water and subsoil-water, forms the bulk of the sewage, though liquids from stables, urinals, etc, may also enter the sewers. The large amount of organic matter in such a liquid will be realized when it is stated that the Rivers Pollution Commissioners found little or no difference in the composition of sewage, whether water closets were in use in a town or not - i.e. whether it contained the solid excreta of the population or not. The average amount of excreta per head of the population is assumed by Parkes to be 2½ oz. of faeces and 40 oz. of urine. The total volume of sewage per head of the population varies in towns according as the rainfall and subsoil-water are admitted to the sewers or not: in most English towns it is from 30 to 40 gallons per diem.
In sewered towns the most speedy and economical method of getting rid of excreta from houses is undoubtedly water-carriage, gravity (which costs nothing) acting as the motive power. Some form of drainage is needful to get rid of the waste water of a household, and experience has shown that the danger of sewer-air entering the house is not materially increased by water-closets where these are of good construction, and where the whole drainage-system is properly trapped and disconnected. In isolated country-houses the method may also be applicable provided that suitable means exist for disposing of the liquid sewage - i.e. where it can be utilized for the irrigation of fields without prejudice to health, where even employed for garden purposes, or where it can escape into the ground without danger of the contamination of wells or streams. In the houses of the poorest classes in towns water-closets are so liable to misuse and blocking that they are undesirable unless a rigid system of sanitary inspection can be practised.
In such cases and where no sewerage system is present, - as is usually the case in the country, - water-carriage is unsatisfactory, since cesspools, unless most carefully constructed, arc a source of serious danger in the neighbourhood of houses. The midden or privy of our forefathers is in any case liable to be a nuisance, and one which becomes intolerable at the time when it is emptied. The system of pail-closets, in which the excreta are deodorized by the addition of ashea or earth, has, on the contrary, much to recommend it: it is simple and cleanly, and the small size of the receptacle necessitates its frequent emptying. In towns the household ashes, duly sifted, afford an excellent means of deodorizing the excreta; in the country, where a sufficient supply of earth is available, earth-closets can be used with great advantage: the deodorizing and disintegrating effects of dry earth upon faecal matter are very pronounced. Whatever material is used for deodorizing, enough of it must be added to ensure complete dryness of the product
The ultimate disposal of sewage is a problem that can only be briefly referred to here. Where dry methods of removal are in use, the products can be directly added to the land as manure. Water-carriage involves such great dilution as to render their application to land much more costly and troublesome. Sewage-farms have proved a successful solution of the difficulty where suitable sites can be obtained, perhaps nowhere so strikingly as at Berlin, where an arid, sandy soil has been rendered capable of bearing abundant and remunerative crops. The conditions which can make sewage-farming pay are not everywhere attainable: in many places, indeed, the purification of sewage by land-treatment is impossible. Thru arises the difficulty of getting rid of large volumes of sewage without injury to health. On the coast it may be discharged into the sea, if its washing back on to the foreshore can be avoided. Its discharge, untreated, into streams is only permissible where the volume of water in the stream is vastly in excess of that of the sewage, and a sufficient distance intervenes between the point of discharge and the nearest town or water-intake, as to allow of the complete oxidation of organic matter and the destruction of bacteria dangerous to health. Neither condition is easily attainable in a thickly-populated country like England, and the absolute prohibition of river-pollution by sewage ought to be enforced. Various processes have been devised for purifying sewage and rendering the effluent so harmless that it may be discharged into streams without danger, and mention will be made hereafter of such processes as come within the scope of this work.
The householder or architect may, however, be called upou to decide what method of sewage-disposal is to be adopted in an isolated country-house, and the principles which should guide him have been already discussed. If suitable facilities exist, and no danger of the contamination of water-supplies arises, water-carriage may be employed. If there is a large garden, a well-constructed cesspool is permissible, if it be duly ventilated and at least 50 feet from the house and 60 to 80 feet distant from any well, spring, or stream Greater distances are more desirable. The sewage can be pumped up and utilized in the garden to the great advantage of the fruit and vegetables grown therein. The overflow must be conducted where no possible danger can arise from it. Larger areas of land may be treated by broad irrigation - the method which appears to get the greatest manurial value from the sewage, but where nuisance arises, sub-irrigation - a method which has been largely adopted in America - is preferable. If no sufficient area of land exists for the disposal of liquid sewage, dry methods of carriage must be employed, and of these, earth-closets are the most convenient in the country, though ashes or charcoal may be used if preferred. Under these circumstances the waste water from the house may be conducted to a suitable permeable chamber in the soil and allowed to soak away where it cannot contaminate any water-supply.