Building Reedbed Systems

Building Reedbed Systems

Introductory information on Reed Beds and ecological sewage treatment systems.

Growing reeds in sewage.

Reed beds for sewage treatment comprise of an area in the garden with tall grass like plants, reeds, growing to 2 meters in height above the gravel of a filter bed.
Area. The area for a family of 5 people will be 3 m x 3 m approx for basic treatment and a second bed of similar area for polishing or tertiary treatment of the final discharge = 9 sq meters x 2 reed beds.

Mechanical maintenance?

Reed beds are often specified in order to avoid long-term mechanical or electrical maintenance. Unlike package treatment plants, reed beds, assuming adequate fall, can work by gravity alone. Reed beds are therefore a natural gravity alternative to mechanised systems.

Gravity System.

To move the wastewater through the system the reed bed site would require a vertical fall of 2 to 4.5 meters to avoid pumps. Reed beds without pumps therefore tend to be site specific.

Gardening Maintenance.

Reed beds for a domestic house do however require about 5 hrs per annum of weeding/ gardening. Sludge from septic tanks should be removed every two years. Alternatively remove safe faecal matter compost every 3 to 5 years and use in your flowerbed. See module CF below.

Completed installed Costs.

Depends on the final treatment standard, the arrangement and the module or modules in the design, costs can vary from € 2,700.00 to € 15,000.00 for a family of 2 to 6 people.


Clients might choose for example to order just one treatment module alone, such as the faecal composting chamber. This will eliminate the odour problems that are generally associated with sewage. Alternatively we can provide for a more comprehensive system incorporating several module stages to achieve much higher overall treatment goals. The design brief might address issues such as the long-term reliability, the degree of treatment to be achieved, maintenance and sustainability of the system.

Long Term Economics.

It is inevitable that the government will be introducing mandatory charges for the emptying and inspection of septic tanks at some future date. The charges that will likely be levied, together with the annual costs for electrical / mechanical treatment systems will make such systems expensive in the long run. In contrast, faecal compost chambers followed by reed beds that operate by gravity will avoid both the annual electro /mechanical maintenance and the septic tank disposal costs.

CF. Composting faeces.

To manage faeces, toilet paper, grease, fats and oil, most people use conventional septic tanks. Septic tanks however produce smelly effluent. Alternatively by separating the faeces and toilet paper from the flush water, the resulting effluent will have no odours and the client can recycle this material as safe compost in the garden- instead of paying to get rid of septic tank sludge. The earth- worm compost needs to be removed every 3 to 5 years. This long retention time requires less maintenance relative to a septic tank that should be emptied every two years. This free compost will be perfectly dry and safe to put around trees and flowers in the garden. The Herr design, composting chamber will be rat and child- proof and is fully vented. The effluent from the compost does not become septic and therefore has no odour. In contrast to this, septic tank effluent is always smelly. A reed bed fed by effluent from a faecal composting chamber will therefore never smell. Self build cost will be €1,650.00 + vat + grease trap + block-work chamber. Cost for the information module for planners is €50.00.   Back to top

Module VFRB. Vertical flow reed beds.

This follows the composting chamber module above or the standard septic tank, and removes the water pollution so that fish, that need oxygen to survive, can breathe in the receiving waters. This module therefore removes the demand for oxygen that the effluent would otherwise impose on the river. Herr design, vertical flow reed beds, require a 2.25 meter fall, and assuming the site has this, we can avoid pumps, bubblers or motors. The gravel or the reeds do not need to be replaced- though we recommend regular removal of small trees and weeds every year. For up to 5 people the vertical flow reed bed requires an area of 3 x 3 meters. Self build cost could be €1500 + vat for dosing box and gravel details + concrete & blockwork construction of the bed + digger + gravel + labour help + reeds. Cost for the information on this module is €40.00

Module HFRB. Horizontal flow reed beds.

Although the Vertical Flow reed bed removes much pollution, nitrogen in the form of nitrates will still remain. Unless this nitrogen is removed, algae will form in nearby lakes over the summer months. This module is therefore installed after conventional electro mechanical treatment systems, or our own vertical flow reed bed, in order to further polish the final effluent to a tertiary standard. The area required would be about 3 x 3 meters for 5 people. Self build cost would be €1100 + vat for the Herr humus tank & gravel details + concrete & blockwork + gravel, digger & labour + reeds. Cost for the engineering detail of this module for self build clients or planners is €30.00

Module MSW.Mini surface wetland.

In spite of all the above stages the wastewater will still contains significant harmful faecal bacteria concentrations. Furthermore many soil types in Ireland have very poor percolation resulting in waterlogged land and localized surface pollution. This mini engineered wetland aims to encourage percolation and eliminate remaining bacterial contamination. Costs will be for the digger and willows. Cost for the engineering detail of this module for planners is €20.00


Module US. Urine Separation.

Urine separating toilets from Herr now have all the advantages of modern looks and a very high standard of hygiene design. They also have the advantage of permanently removing a major source of pollution and converting this waste into an ultimately convenient reusable and sustainable agricultural resource. While the extractable phosphate resources of the planet are finite – human urine is regarded as a safe and sustainable liquid fertilizer. Contrary to our present culture that discourages the reuse of human waste- this properly managed resource is free of heavy metals and harmful pathogens. Assuming the use of both faecal composting and urine separation; as much as 70% to 95% of the nitrogen load will be removed which would otherwise require treatment. This approach is highly recommended for housing projects near environmentally sensitive lakes, water supply sources or for sustainable farming practices. €3,600.00 approx for 2 toilets + storage tanks + maintenance manual.
Cost for the detail of this module for planners is €40.00

Module FFAS. Flow form aeration system.

The quality of a full treatment system can be demonstrated in a final pond. This could demonstrate the final water quality by having fish and clear water at the end of the garden. Rudolf Steiner, the famous German educational philosopher is credited with being one of the earliest believers in the idea of the rhythmic power of water. Flow forms are sculpted water cascades that create these same rhythmic water movements These can become a focal point of interest along side a pond while at the same time aerating the water. €1800.00 to €1300.00 + pumps + electrics + piping. Recommended for impressive landscaped water gardens.
Cost for the detail of this module for your landscape gardener is €40.00.

Module AGHTS. Aquatic glasshouse treatment system.

Once the wastewater has passed through a vertical flow reed bed the remaining odour free discharge is used to grow flowering plants using hydroponics. Broader agendas such as water recycling, the building of a conservatory / greenhouse with a yearlong lush planted area with flowers is also achievable. An aquatic greenhouse system integrates various eco-architectural goals such as passive solar heat collection, wind shelter and the removal of various indoor air pollutants using aquatic plants. We offer a consultancy service prior to design and installation. Cost for the initial information starter package is €50.00. The cost for detailed proposals can be negotiated.
Visit and Consultation to our site in Dundalk. Meeting in our office and see our reed bed €75.00

Download an order sheet for more information on reedbed sewage treatment systems modules here