Save Water, Money, and The Earth.
What's Grey Water?
So what is grey water anyway? Grey water is waste water generated from doing things around the house or your business such as laundry, dish-washing, and bathing. You may have heard that there are “grey water systems,” which reuse water from sinks, showers, laundry, and can help you reduce water use. It can also save a lot on your water and sewer bill every month. Furthermore, by adding a few of the things we have talked about in other articles, such as building a rain garden mentioned in Going Green Basics, you will save money on water, reduce usage - which is good, by watering the landscape and garden with recycled water. This will also prolong the life of your septic tank.
As with anything finding good information to rely on is not always easy. Here we offer a guide to installing a grey water system in your home, no matter what your budget.
Option: 1 - The Basic Do-It-Yourself System
Now this is a bit of a stretch, but for an eco-warrior it will work. The fact is you can recycle grey water at home today if you’re willing to put a little elbow grease into it. Collect bathroom sink water in a bucket. The best type of bucket to use is a 5-gallon bucket with a lid that was formerly used for cooking oil (you can get these at most restaurants). After it is about 2/3 the way full use it to flush toilets. However, don’t let collected grey water sit for too long in about 24 hours, bacteria and other pathogens can multiply, turning safe grey water into hazardous black water, so keep on this system.
For a little extra cash, you can also buy “toilet top sinks” that pull water for flushing through a tank-top sink first. Wash your hands and the grey water gets used to refill the toilet tank immediately. There are a variety of systems one can install without tools or plumbing know-how.
- Pros: Basically free — and it’s a renter-friendly application if you have enough uses for the water.
- Cons:Definitely not a set-it-and-forget it system. Requires continuous elbow grease to keep the bucket system operating.
- Materials: 5-gallon bucket.
- Tools: a pair of strong arms.
- Estimated Cost: $5 for a pair of buckets per bathroom, free if you ask your favorite restaurant, grocery store, or food co-op. $100 and up for a toilet-top sink.
Option: 2 - Install a Laundry to Landscape System
If you use virgin water to water the lawn and landscape think again. There is a better way that is not too difficult to get going. We have already talked about the most basic storm water run-off system in Going Green Basics, basically connecting rain gutters to a 50-gallon drum. To go one step further consider diverting water from your washing machine to the lawn. In most cases laundry pipes are visible on the exterior of your home and can be easily hooked up to some flexible pipe and run to a tank for storage or just to a rain garden (a collection of water thirsty plants that also work to filter toxins out of the water before it runs into the storm drain and eventually your local water table). In other cases a tub or shower with an accessible drainpipe or your sink drains might also be possible candidates.
Recently the State of California began to allow the installation of these sort of systems with no permits. Where we are located next to the Puget Sound there is a lot of clay soil. It is important to understand what type of soil you do have where water will be diverted, so that the area is capable of absorbing it. Otherwise you could be in for real trouble in the form of land instability. Which is definitely not good so watch out and do you research regarding the right types of plants to use in your rain garden according to what type of soil you have.
- Pros: Low material cost, and simple enough for the home handyman to tackle alone. It’s also the least difficult to maintain.
- Cons: Limited impact on overall water use. Average washing machines consume about 40 gallons of water per load. In California, new home landscaping accounts for an average of 270 gallons a day [pdf]. May also run afoul of some local building codes; be sure to check with your local agency.
- Materials: Good handyman skills, a few pieces of plumbing and hardware, some mulch, non-toxic phosphate-free detergents, a washing machine, and landscaping or a lawn.
- Estimated cost: $250-500 per drain.
Option: 3 - Install a Manufactured System
If we have a water crisis, also talked about in our article Going Green Basics, why would we use potable water to flush the toilet? This is exactly the logic behind a bathroom grey water system. However manufactured solutions are gonna cost up front, but pay for themselves pretty quick if you pay for water. Do it yourself versions of the sink-to-toilet system are available, but for the most sanitary solution, you’ll want to choose commercial systems such as those from Brac Systems or Sloan. A good general household model that we tested was the Sloan “micro” grey water system pictured above. the AQUS. The unit is easily installed under most bathroom vanities and remains out of site all the while capturing sink water and pumping into the toilet tank ready to flush when needed. According to the EPA, household bathrooms account for more than 50% of indoor water use, so grey water systems that can cut that in half can have a major impact on overall household water use and your monthly water bill.
- Pros: Integrates into your home plumbing system. Professional systems are warrantied and approved by some local building codes.
- Cons: The most costly system. Requires maintenance of collection and treatment aspects of the system. It will help to have a good idea of your existing water use, and to know a good plumber. For a complete system — including collection, storage, water treatment, and re-piping — of your choice, depending on the deal you can get from your plumber friend your probably looking at more than $1,000. But it will pay for itself by cutting your water bill in half.
- Estimated cost:
- Sloan AQUS System: $375.
- Brac Systems: $1,890 and up.
- Labor: $500-1,000+
Overall this project can save a lot. A significant impact on your water usage which as we have illustrated is really all-important on many different levels. As well as a way to save potentially half off your water bill each month if you have metered water.
About the Author Chris McGrath, is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of T&G. He writes about sustainability, urban design and development, DIY, organic food, and simple living.
Find him on Facebook at http://facebook.com/christopher.r.mcgrath
Follow us on Twitter: @thriftyandgreen