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A Brief Summary of SOLVIVA Innovations

I started my ride with SOLVIVA in 1978, on the island of Martha's Vineyard, 7 miles off the coast of Massachusetts. This location gets roughly 50% of possible sunshine, 45" annual rainfall, with temperatures dipping down to 9ºF below zero.

Here, SOLVIVA proceeded to prove some new realities that had previously been considered impossible to do, but that actually turned out to be not only possible, but also wonderful and practical, reliable, and easy to maintain - and also saving money and time, and causing near zero pollution or waste.

I imagined, designed, built and evolved these methods over the past 45 years, and they have kept amazing me by how well they turned out to work - way beyond my highest hopes. They are all scalable, adaptable and applicable to any location on Earth, including highrise buildings.

Please keep in mind that these innovations were all first draft experiments, done with miniscule amounts of money. They may not look slick, but, by golly, they proved some amazing new methods that, back then, nobody had yet figured out how to do, and almost everyone thought would be impossible. "Composting flush toilet? Chickens to heat a greenhouse? Urine as fertilizer? Heating air and water to 120ºF within the same solar roof? No way would any of that be possible!"

But, it turned out that they all worked even better than my own highest hopes.

The purpose of this website is to make this how-to information widely available for anyone who yearns to live in ways that don't require grid electricity or fossil fuels, don't cause pollution, suffering or other harm, and increase our security, health and comfort, and also reduce cost of living.

Here's a Brief Introduction to some of the Solviva Milestones

in more or less chronological order.

My first mind-blowing discovery, way back in 1978:

URINE as a Fertilizer!!

At that time, we were living in a little cottage in the woods, with a 20-gallon-bucket compost toilet. To minimize urine in the bucket (which makes it heavy and smelly), we peed in a separate container, and then diluted the fresh urine 1:10 with water, and poured it here and there outside around the cottage. I knew that dog urine could kill plants, so I wanted to be careful.

What a stunning surprise it was that first Spring when the various wildflowers around the cottage came up with exceptional health and vigour, and then proceeded to grow to more than twice their normal size! This phenomenal Pokeberry plant grew even higher than in this image, to more than double normal height. It was mindblowing to think of the atoms from my body being absorbed by these plants! Reincarnation while I was still alive!

Someone said, "But, science says it could not possibly work, because urine has the wrong form of nitrogen" -

- to which someone else replied "well, science also showed that, given the ratio between their weight and their wings, bumble bees can't possibly fly."

Peace-on-Earth! - You're-in-Charge! - You're-in-Power!

- The Solviva Comprehensive Solar Roof design (1981)

This proved that the temperature of air can rise from 50ºF to 120ºF in less than 4 seconds (seriously!) as it rushes up through the air channels between the black metal roof and the clear glazing mounted above it.

One small 200-watt PV panel is enough to power 2 large and 6 small fans to circulate that solar-heated air from the roof down through ducts and into a layer of heat-absorbing stones under the concrete slab floor.

To prevent overheating, the top of this solar roof has a full-length vent that opens up to let that hot air rush up and out, thus cooling the entire house and preventing overheating. Extremely effective, without any exhaust fans.

It also proved that black pipes laid within that same solar roof could heat water as effectively as the 5500-watt water heater.

The Solviva Home Indoor Garden

This proved that it's highly beneficial to integrate a large, lush, fragrant, food-producing garden paradise into our living spaces, without any separating doors. With a carpet of baby tears, and sweet tomatoes and salad greens and fragrant flowers and tropical vines, and with a splash-all-you-want deep old bath tub and shower in the middle of it all. Bliss!

And no problems with overheating, mold or insect invasions!

Winter security

This home proved to be so well solar-heated that I could go away in the middle of the winter without any back-up heat or attention required to prevent freezing.

And, in the winter, the indoor garden survived 3 weeks of no watering!

(No worrying!

Such Freedom!)

Solviva Wood Heating system

In spite of my previous home having burned down (due to that state-of-the-art airtight woodstove exploding!), I did include a wood heating system -

  • for back-up if ever needed.

  • for the coziness factor (love of fire is deep in my northern genes!).

  • and of course, as fireproof as possible!

This Solviva Wood Heating system heats not only the air and the masonry mass around and above it - it also heats water. It recalls the old days, when most wood stoves had a built-in or attached water tank of one kind or other. It's so obvious and so incredibly effective! We have to ask: what about all the woodstoves installed since the 1960s, why did they not routinely include water heating??

This is how I did it with very little money: on top of this old Franklin stove lies an old truck radiator and 100' coil of copper pipe, which are plumbed as a continuous loop to the pre-heating water tank located above it, on the second floor. I added a circulating pump, assuming it would be needed.

But, to my surprise, I found that this pump was not needed because the thermosiphon effect made it a very effective self-propelled circulation system. It is funky, but wow it sure heats up a 60-gallon tank of water in a very short time. This preheating tank is also plumbed to the SolarRoll solar-heating mat laid on the black metal roof, under the clear glazing laid above it, which raised the water temperature to 120º F.

The Solviva Waterless Compost Toilets (1981)

This was really quite amazing - it proved to be odor-free, without any fan - with easy no-see-no-touch-no-smell management. A scoop of cover mix (sawdust + compost) is sprinkled on top - this completely prevents any odors.

It produces superb compost without any turning (yes, without any turning!) - run by thousands of self-perpetuating redworms and billions of tiny, mini and nano critters - recycling it all in ways even more wondrous than we can possibly comprehend. It was like a miracle - yet, there it was in reality, for 38 years! And, of course, it caused zero pollution.

It uses 20-gallon plastic trash barrels, which is infinitely much easier and more pleasant than a 5-gallon bucket system. I made mine with a few nice old boards, a couple of hinges, and several of those 20-gallon plastic barrels (used in rotation). It totalled less than 150 dollars. For one or a family, or even a big event - rotation frequency is totally flexible - and it takes less than 4 minutes to exchange the barrel.

This system absorbs and recycles the nitrogen on-site to benefit your landscaping.

Thus it prevents the horrific nitrogen pollution that drains from all the Title 5 septic systems that Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been forcing us to have ever since 1995 (enforced by $500/day fine!), even though they, the Mass DEP, knew from the beginning that these Title 5 septic systems would leak immense amounts of nitrogen into the groundwater that drains into our beloved ponds, and that this would cause vast algae infestations - which have indeed caused great harm these essential ecosystems, ever since 1995.

For much more detailed information, go to the sections Wastewater Management and Solviva Designs. And also see my books.

The Solviva Greywater management system (1981)

This proved to be an excellent way to deal with all the greywater from kitchen, laundry and bathrooms (not from toilets). It provides irrigation for flower gardens, shrubs and trees (not for use on vegetables!), without ever causing any back-ups, odors, insects or any other problems. And it costs almost nothing. This gives better and safer treatment than the immense $20-30,000 septic systems the State DEP requires.

The Solviva Composting Flush Toilet (1994).

This was a brand-new idea, which totally exceeded my highest expectations, and astonished everyone who saw it, including Trudy Coxe, who was at that time the top Massachusetts official in charge of DEP, (the Environmental Protection Agency!), as she leaned into this composting chamber:

"You can do this with a regular flush toilet?!? My God, how is this possible!? No bad odors! Nothing visible except redworms! We need this everywhere!"

As usual, what I had flushed down that morning had already been consumed by thousands of happy redworms (This is Redworm Heaven!) (Pages 44-113 in Green Light at the End of the Tunnel.)

The regular toilet on the second floor flushes into an insulated exterior compost chamber, filled with aged wood chips. Unlike regular septic systems, this does not require huge machines to dig huge holes that require removal of gardens and trees. Nitrogen removal: 90-99%. Cost: 60-80% less than DEP-approved nitrogen-reducing I/A systems.

This system is a game changer: it proves we don't have to switch to waterless composting toilets in order to stop the nitrogen pollution that causes the devastating algae infestations in our coastal ponds. And it proves that we sure don't need to spend $50,000 for individual DEP-approved A/I nitrogen-reducing septic systems, or hundreds of millions for expanding our central sewage systems.

This system shows that we can keep our dear flush toilets (a pretty marvellous device, especially with a bidet attachment!), without continuing the terrible pollution they have been causing for so long.

And, this system is scalable to the tallest highrises and densest neighborhoods.

Also, the key ingredient, wood chips, is a renewable and readily available local resource.

See important instructions in the Wastewater section.


This 30x100' solar greenhouse, 3000 sft (just 1/14th of an acre!) proved that by incorporating warm-blooded animals, we can grow astonishing yields of highest quality food, including meat and eggs, all through the coldest below-zero blizzards, without any back-up fuel. No need for burning many cords of fire wood, no need to spend several thousands for heating with propane or oil, or cooling with electric fans. Also, without any toxic chemical pesticides. It produced an astonishing 60 pounds a week of superb organic salad greens - that's 5 salad servings a week for 200 people, and it was obvious that this production could be greatly increased!

Even in the worst blizzards, it kept warm enough with just stored solar heat and the body heat of chickens and rabbits - who also provide invaluable CO2 and compost fertilizer, as well as protein. With an easy-to-manage, clean, beneficial, deep bedding system for the animals.

The Solviva Deep Bedding system for the chickens

This best easiest-to-manage deep bedding system makes for healthy and happy the animals.

This image also shows one of the WaterWalls, which hold more than 1350 gallons water, which during a sunny day rises from 55ºF - 85ºF, no matter how cold it is outside, and then slowly releases that heat during the night.

1350 gallons water @ 8 pounds/gallon x 30ºF temperature rise = 324,000 BTUs, which is equivalent to roughly 3 gallons kerosene! This method for absorbing and storing solar heat is more efficient than water-filled barrels or concrete walls.

The EarthLung Filter

This is an adaptation of a Dutch design, and it cleaned the air from the chicken room before circulating it in among the plants - it enabled the immensely beneficial CO2 (from their breath and droppings) to circulate among plants, which proved to double the rate of greens production all through the dark winter. And the chickens benefitted from the clean return air, enriched with oxygen exhaled by the plants. It also transformed the ammonia gas (toxic for the plants) from the chicken

droppings, into nitrate to feed the roots of the plants growing in this filter bed.

Solviva multi-level hanging grow tube system (1984)

100 growtubes, made of 4" diameter lightweight schedule-20 PVC pipes, hung strategically to minimize shading of plants in the raised beds. This tripled the greenhouse productivity.

Ready-to-Eat Mixed Organic Salad Greens (1984)

Portrait of a 1-ounce Solviva Salad

"The Best Ever!"(Bill Murray)

Solviva Salad, launched in 1984, was the first-ever ready-to-eat mixed salad greens on the market,

- and it kept vital freshness for 3 weeks after harvest!

This 1/14th acre Solviva greenhouse (yes, just one fourteenth acre!) produced more than 60 pounds a week of perfect medium small leaves of 30 different kinds of salad greens.

That's a 1000 one-ounce servings weekly = 5 one-ounce salad servings per week for 200 people.

Soon, the concept of ready-to-eat mixed salad greens spread like the wind, and are now available everywhere. However, for whatever the reason, I have yet to eat a single salad brand that is even close to the quality of Solviva Salad. Fresh organic salad greens is surely one of the most nutritious foods we can eat, but, of course, only if they are good quality.

1/14th of an acre greenhouse to grow salad greens for 200. Five greenhouses on 1 acre to feed 1000 people. 10 acres to feed 10,000 people. Furthermore, streamlining all processes could double the production without doubling the work required. Food for thought!

To my great joy, these innovative methods all turned out far better than I could have possibly imagined. Since the beginning, I have been sharing this information in designs, slide presentations, seminars, interviews and magazine articles, websites, Facebook, and, of course, primarily in my two books, SOLVIVA (1998), and Green Light at the End of the Tunnel (2014). And now expanding to this Website and also to YouTube.

Now I am old - a young-ish 85. I want to spend the rest of my remaining time continuing to share the information about what I did, how it worked out, and what we therefore know is possible to do. I also want to continue sharing the bounty of great ideas that are coming in from near and far - so many amazingly good ideas that humans are evolving around the world!

For instance, my daughter Kirsten came up with this gem: "to prevent slugs, place your plants on a table or bench, and smear the legs with a mix of vaseline and salt. Voila! no slugs! And it lasted the whole season!" Simple, cheap, available, non-toxic, and it works!

Check out the button called: "Good News from Around the World" - you are welcome to contribute gems of helpful, hopeful information that could improve our lives.


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