A team from University of California, Berkeley utilized different Viega products and finished second in the SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility District) Tiny House Competition. Berkley also garnered awards for sustainability, water conservation, home life and best craftsmanship. The tiny home used unique and efficient ways to save or reuse water.
Viega is a member of the Center for the Built Environment, a UC Berkeley-sponsored scientific research partner. Students from CBE formed a team to compete in the tiny house competition. Viega came on board as a sponsor, providing products, loaning tools and giving advice. After Fred Bauman, a project scientist at CBE, had initial meetings with the team, he contacted Michael Sullivan, a Viega radiant sales manager.
Laney Siegner, in her third year of the Energy and Resources group PhD program at Berkeley, was a project manager and led the water and wastewater system design.
“We did a lot of outreach for materials procurement,” she said. “We had a limited budget, and we wanted to be off-grid and do a lot of innovative water and efficiency technologies. When we got in touch with Michael, he came through with a delivery of supplies, a bunch of things he thought we might need, and was very on the mark. We didn’t know exactly what we needed, and it was amazing, a much greater amount than we ended up needing in the end.”
The team made good use of the Viega PureFlow system, installing PureFlow PEX in red and blue for hot and cold potable water, and purple for reclaimed water, as well as polymer PureFlow Press Fittings. The PEX in ½" and ¾" was utilized on the project, and the team also used a ManaBloc in the mechanical room. They chose to cover it with clear plastic, so the plumbing is still visible in the completed home. Sullivan loaned the team a Rigid 210 tool for pressing and showed the group how to use hand PEX Press tools.
“We were able to easily fit the product within our wall and floor cavities, and the ManaBloc fit into our little mechanical room nicely,” she explained. “It all worked really well. The plumbing system looked really elegant.”
The Berkeley team wanted their tiny house to be completely off the grid, able to produce its own energy and use as little water as possible. Caroline Karmann, a PhD candidate at Berkeley served as architect for the tiny house. She designed the entire draft, which led to a design that was clean, elegant and truly fulfilled what was needed to make the idea a reality.
With energy efficiency in mind, the team worked to create a system to recycle as much water as they could for a second use.
“Our concept was to pump the greywater to planter boxes on the back end of the house and then filter it through the planter boxes, through a UV disinfection light, and then recollect it as filtered greywater,” Siegner said. “We recycled greywater from the kitchen sink and shower. Our highly ambitious goal was to get the water back to potable, but we couldn’t quite achieve that. We did a lot of testing on it, and there was still a little turbidity, but we determined it was okay for several uses.”
The recycled and filtered water is mostly used for watering plants and for landscaping. Siegner said after the competition was complete, some of the team members worked to redesign the planter boxes so the UV light could function more effectively and hopefully remove even more bacteria.
The tiny house has a low-flow showerhead and sink, so on a day that the house is “well-used,” meaning two showers and dishwashing, there are only about 15 gallons of greywater collected.
“The goal was to make it a proof of concept of how little water you can use within a residence and still be comfortable,” Siegner said. “We were going for this low-tech meets high-tech thing. Our energy system is very high tech with solar panels, but the water system is more appropriate technology for a variety of contexts, including other countries where water infrastructure isn’t as present.”
The PureFlow PEX products played a big role in the whole water system, with lots of tubing used not only for hot and cold water output, but to move the greywater through the recycling system.
The idea impressed the judges of the competition, too, since Berkeley’s team won the award for water conservation, as well as for overall sustainability.
“Viega’s support was essential and extremely important for the success of our project,” said Karmann. “The high quality of Viega’s products has been a key aspect in the functionality of our water systems, which is unusual and complex since we are off-grid. We were profoundly lucky to have this collaboration with Viega.”