How to Install a Grey Water System
Water is a precious resource... and becoming increasingly more expensive... so why waste potentially re-usable water? The average Australian household uses around 400 - 700 litres of water a day (up to 260,000 litres per year!), much of which could be re-used for another purpose. Many people are opting to install various forms of grey water systems to store and utilise water from places such as their bathroom and laundry, redirecting it onto their gardens or other appropriate sources, instead of it being lost down the drain.
In this article we look at ways various people are doing this… from very simple processes, to much more complex setups… so that you can gain a better understanding of what can be done, things you need to consider, and help you decide how complex you may wish to get with your own system.
AN AMBITIOUS GREY WATER PROJECT
Even if you’re looking for something simpler, the video below is well worth watching. It is a Peak Moment TV episode featuring Trathen Heckman, permaculturist and an enthusiastic advocate and educator of sustainable living. He takes us on an in depth informative tour of installing his own grey water system. His system incorporates a wetland system that helps purify the water, which is then reasonably safe to use on food plants, at a sub-soil level. This system is possibly more complex than many people will want to create, but it gives you a basic idea of what is possible with a bit of enthusiasm and effort. To find out more about Trathen, visit his website.
For those of you who are interested in finding out more about all kinds of aspects of sustainable living, Peak Moment TV (Locally Reliant Living for Challenging Times) is an excellent resource. The host, Janaia Donaldson, visits and interviews a wide variety of people and communities creating sustainable lives. Topics such as nook & cranny gardens, local currency, Transition Towns, building community (also see our article on creating community), preparedness, community gardens (also check out our community gardens section), tool shares, eco building, tiny houses, climate change… and so much more!
You can watch the many (293 at time of writing) episodes here for free. Definitely one of my favourite things to watch!
BUCKETS AND PUMPS
Re-using grey water doesn’t have to be as complex as Trathen’s system… it can be very simple… for instance, collecting the water from your shower in a bucket, as it comes up to the desired temperature, or scooping out the bath tub with a bucket, then pouring it on your pot plants or garden.
Below is a simple, but slightly more complex grey water collection method. It uses a pool pump, attached to a hose, to pump out the water collected during your shower (just pop the plug in before starting) or bath. In the video, the hose is run across the floor and out the back door, but with a little adaptation you could get it to work through your bathroom window instead, to save on having to run a hose through your house, removing it when finished. It may just take a bit of awareness of levels and making sure you don’t kink your hose.
LAUNDRY TO LANDSCAPE
A laundry to landscape grey water system is another relatively easy way to reuse your grey water. Rather than having to use a separate pump, as in the previous example, it utilises the washing machine pump to move the water out into the system.
Here is a good video taking you through building one of these systems, step-by-step.
SHOWER GREY WATER SYSTEM
Here is a relatively simple project for using grey water from your shower on your garden. As with the bath system, it uses a pump, but is a more permanent plumbed example.
TOILET WITH INTEGRATED HAND BASIN
A very simple re-use of grey water, for those who don’t want the effort of installing something more extensive, is the over toilet hand basin toilet system. This is a specially designed hand basin/toilet combo, in which the hand basin is located on top of the toilet cistern. When you wash your hands after using the toilet, or any other time you wish, rather than go down the drain the water drains into the toilet cistern, ready to be used next time it is flushed. It also has a normal fill system, so that if there isn’t enough accumulated water from hand washing, it tops up the level.
In Australia, one such unit is the Caroma Profile 5 Deluxe with Integrated Hand Basin. It is Australia’s first 5 star water saving toilet suite and was researched and developed over a 10 year period in collaboration with the Brisbane City Council. This technology is also sold in North America, where it was considered so innovative that it won the Green Good Design Award ‘Product of the Year’ in 2011. It is also a very compact design, so fits in small spaces.
Here in Australia, these kind of units must be installed by qualified plumbers. For more information on this design see our article which is an interview with Dr Steve Cummings, Research & Development Manager at GWA Bathrooms & Kitchens.
Another option is to use grey water collected from elsewhere… such as your shower and normal hand basin… and have it piped to your toilet cistern, where it can then be used for flushing.
Here’s an Aussie project, collecting laundry water and piping it to use for toilet flushing.
REED BED FILTRATION
With a similar idea to Trathen’s wetland, is this reed bed grey water filtration system. This particular one filters the water before feeding it in to a wicking garden, which is a really excellent way of using grey water. See our article How to Make?? A Wicking Garden Bed ** once written ** for more information on this.
GREY WATER WETLAND & SILT POND
The following video is a fascinating project for anyone with a bit of property. The grey water is run from the house, through a small wetland/reed area which takes up nutrients in the water, then into a silt/sediment pond system, which helps purify the water by removing particles etc. It then runs down a little waterfall, which helps aerate the water, into a main pond/wetland area which finishes off the cleansing job. Wonderful if you want to attract wildlife to your property. You can even have fish in a big enough setup. Plenty of potential to be quite an attractive feature, as well as a way of cleaning and utilising grey water.
GREY WATER EVAPORATION SYSTEM
Something a little different. This is an off grid cabin setup, where they run their grey water into a tank, which then can be fed into evaporation ponds, which will have some soil with water loving plants, to help take up nutrients and speed up the evaporation by taking up the water.
And here’s the update for this project…
There’s some other interesting bits of off grid living info here, as well as other videos in the series about creating their off-grid property. Well worth having a look if you’re interested in off grid living!
If you want to filter your grey water with a simple device, either just for peace of mind or because you want to be able to store it a little longer safely, you can buy filtration systems, or even make your own.
A bio-sand filter is an excellent option. This video shows a very simplistic animation of how it works.
The following video is an excellent step-by-step guide to making your own bio-sand filter. He shows you every step of the way, as he does it himself. You even learn what not to do, through the guy’s own trial and error.
Please note: Grey water with chlorine in should sit for some hours first, before going through the bio-sand filter, to allow the chlorine to evaporate. Otherwise, the chlorine can kill the bio layer of the filter.
>GOOGLE AND MORE…
Even Google is into grey water. Here is a Google Tech Talk video on ‘How to Implement a Greywater System for Your Garden’. It has some interesting points, though is a little slow to get going.
If you would like more information on grey water systems, an excellent site to visit is http://oasisdesign.net/greywater/ Art Ludwig takes you through a variety of aspects of grey water, along with other related topics. He also has a couple of great books available for sale- ‘Creating an Oasis with Greywater’ and ‘Builders Greywater Guide’ as well as a ‘Laundry to Landscape’ DVD.
If you are interested in buying a grey water system, you may be interested in our article which interviews Jonathan Berry from Eco Design Sustainable Housing about the ECO Design Greywater Recycling System or you might like to visit their site.
There’s some great Aussie grey water info here http://www.yourhome.gov.au/water/wastewater-reuse
This link will take you to a list of potentially grey water friendly plants to plant in Australia, depending on your conditions.
A few plant’s that you apparently shouldn’t use grey water on are grevillea, ferns, veggie seedlings, herbs, citrus, lavender, camellia, azaleas and bougainvillea.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND…
Be aware that there are varying government/council regulations with various requirements for grey water systems, so you will need to contact your particular governing body to see what rules you need to comply with, in purchase, installation and operation of the system.
For some excellent information and links to the rules and regulations governing grey water systems in Australia, along with all kinds of other aspects of grey water, visit http://www.savewater.com.au/how-to-save-water/in-the-home/greysmart/rules-and-approved-systems-in-your-state
There are also lots of other things to be aware of to make sure your grey water system is not harmful to your family, your neighbours, your garden, your pets and wildlife.
The following two videos give some straight forward advice on this topic, from an Australian perspective.
So, some common-sense guidelines to keep in mind are:
Do not use grey water for drinking, or as a drinking source for your pets or wildlife.
Make sure children (and other people who may not realise it is grey water) understand this water is not to be drunk or played in.
Untreated grey water can be a health issue when used on edible plants, so is usually not recommended. If it is kept underground and not allowed to make contact with the above ground plant growth then it is less of a concern. Never use it above ground on plants you intend to eat. Root veggies will come into contact with the grey water underground, so once again this can be an issue. Fruit and nut trees are fine.
Apply grey water at soil level, preferably under a layer of mulch or soil… don’t spray it around.
Switch off your grey water system if anyone in your household has a tummy bug, flu or other contagious illnesses, as using it on the garden can create an increased risk for others getting sick.
Use appropriate, bio-degradable laundry detergent, shower products etc which are low in phosphorous and sodium.
Do not allow runoff from your system to leave your property and run onto your neighbours land, or into storm water drains.
Don’t store grey water without a setup specifically designed for this purpose, as it can become quite dangerous because of the bacteria and foreign matter present in the water. Use within 24 hours max.
Don’t use kitchen waste water because of the food particles, unless you use a good filtration system… and be aware that in some places it is illegal to reuse kitchen grey water.
Never attempt to redirect toilet water (black water) into your grey water system!
Hopefully this article has given you some insight into the kinds of grey water projects you could undertake… and perhaps the inspiration to get you motivated! We’d love to hear about your graywater system, so please do let us know if you go ahead and create one… photos and/ or video showing how you did it would be great!
One last video to finish off…