Want to reduce what you are spending on utilities while also protecting the environment? You may want to look into recycling your greywater.
This post will explain to you exactly what greywater is and how you can reuse it in your home and yard safely and economically.
What is Greywater?
There are two types of used water in your home: greywater and blackwater. The easiest way to explain greywater is to first define blackwater since you can contrast the two.
Blackwater is contaminated water that is unsafe. The most obvious example is used toilet water. But the used water in your kitchen qualifies as well, since it was exposed to the bacteria on your dirty dishes as well as any buildup of grease in your pipes. Exposure to blackwater can easily make you or wildlife sick.
Grey water is any used water that does not qualify as blackwater.
Shower water is one example. Another is the water from your bathroom sink. The water you use to wash your clothes is greywater too. Most of the time, these waters should not contain a large concentration of dangerous germs.
Note that “greywater” may also be spelled “graywater,” and can be written with or without a space in the middle, i.e. “grey water” or “gray water.”
Why Recycle Grey Water?
Because greywater is relatively safe, there are some applications in the home and yard for recycling it. Reusing your greywater will allow you to:
Reduce what you are spending on your water bills. Your savings can be quite significant if you are used to using a lot of water in your lawn and garden.
Waste less water, protecting the environment.
More easily ration water during drought conditions.
Keep your septic system leach fields functioning at their best for as long as possible.
Grey Water Uses
So, what can you do with recycled greywater? Well, that depends largely on the type of greywater system you choose to install.
It is possible to put in a complicated system that not only captures greywater, but treats it.
Hypothetically, you could then use it for a variety of indoor applications.
But most people are not going to do that. They are instead going to opt for a simple, cost-effective system that is easy to install. Such systems are suited to capturing greywater and directing it outside to irrigate your lawn and garden.
Here is a great video from the City of Pasadena.
We recommend that the majority of homeowners go this route, using greywater almost exclusively outdoors.
But there is one incredibly simple way to recycle some of your greywater indoors as well, with zero installation required.
All you need to do is take a bucket with you into the shower. Catch some of the water, and then use it throughout the day to flush your toilet.
Greywater Systems and Costs
Here are some examples of some basic types of greywater systems that you might consider installing in your home:
You can set up a toilet to capture water from the bathroom sink for flushing.
You can use a bucket system as we discussed.
Think about setting up a laundry-to-landscape (L2L) system. As the name indicates, this is a system that carries the water you use for washing your clothes out into your yard.
You might assume that pumps and machinery are necessary to operate a greywater system. But depending on your geography and goals, that may not be the case at all. LDL systems rely largely on gravity. So, you do not need to invest a lot of time, money or expertise into getting them set up.
So, how much will you spend on a greywater system?
That depends on the type of system you select. At the upper end, a greywater system might cost you around $2,500. But at the lower end, a price range of just $150-$300 is possible for an L2L system!
That is just the cost for the materials you will need. Installing it yourself should not be too difficult given the lack of moving parts. But if you can afford to pay a contractor to do it instead, then your costs may range up by $500-$1,500 more.
Regardless of the system you choose and the installation method you opt for, your greywater system can pay for itself over time.
And don’t forget—taking a bucket into the shower with you is free, minus the cost of the bucket. So, that is a great way you can get started recycling greywater today at no expense.
How Do You Choose the Right Type of Greywater System?
When you are trying to decide on a greywater system, here are a few considerations that can guide you to a system that is suitable for your home:
Right for your purpose. Do you want to reuse your greywater only outdoors? Or do you also want to treat and reuse it indoors? Are you just picking out a greywater system for yourself? Or are you setting up a system for an entire apartment?
A match for your home and landscape. Some greywater systems are designed with specific types of residences in mind such as tiny houses. Also, consider the contours of your landscape. Are you able to use gravity to direct your greywater down into your lawn, or do you have to pump it up an incline?
A fit for your budget. There is a big difference between a greywater system that costs $150 and one that costs $2,500. Know your budget in advance, and whether or not you will be able to install your system yourself. Factor in the costs for materials and installation.
Easy and affordable to use and maintain. Along with considering whether a system will fit your home and landscape, you also need to think about whether it will fit with your skills, future budget, and schedule. Will you find it intuitive and easy to operate? How often do you have to change the filters? What do the replacement filters cost? What kind of maintenance will you have to perform to keep your system operating efficiently, and how often do you need to do it?
General Pointers for Proper Use of Greywater
Finally, let’s wrap up by going over a few basic guidelines for greywater systems.
Be sure that whatever you do, you are following all local codes. Do not assume you know the codes in your current location based on those in a previous location. They can vary quite a bit. They might also change over time. So, look them up.
Do not assume greywater is “clean” just because it is not blackwater. It may still contain hazardous pathogens. So, do not drink it or let pets drink it.
Do not over-water your plants. In fact, you might need to be able to switch your greywater away from your irrigation system sometimes and direct it back into your sewer system.
Whether or not you can water fruits and vegetables with greywater depends on how they grow. So long as the greywater does not touch them, it is fine. So, you can water a fruit tree with it, for example, but not a root vegetable.
Watch out for freezing conditions over the winter. If your pipes freeze with water in them, they can burst. Burying the pipes sufficiently deep can help to prevent this issue, as can simply emptying out the pipes and then switching off the system when necessary.
Beware of standing water. This may be a problem if you have clay or heavy soil that is not well-draining. Ensure that your system does not promote pooling. That way, you can avoid giving your plants wet feet that might cause them to rot and die. You also may reduce problems with pests if your system does not produce standing water.
You can temporarily store greywater (indeed, doing so as part of your system can help you to filter out certain particles), but you should aim to flush it out into either your septic system or your landscape within 24 hours. Otherwise, you may find yourself confronted by a foul smell.
One more thing to watch out for is the chemicals you are adding to your greywater. The wrong substances can harm your plants. These may include the chemicals in your dish soap, laundry detergent, or soaps and hair care products. Greywater Action explains the products you use “should be free of salt (sodium) and boron (borax), two common ingredients that are non-toxic to people but are harmful to plants and/or the soil. Chlorine bleach is also harmful to plants and should be diverted with any other harmful products to the sewer or septic by switching the 3-way valve.” You can find additional cautions and recommendations on the linked page.
Not surprisingly, sodium-based water softeners are problematic. But you are fine if you choose a softener that is based in potassium.
Install Your First Greywater System Now
The next time you are watching your greywater swirling down the drain, think about how much money you could save if you were sending that water directly to your irrigation system.
The time and expense to install a greywater system is minimal, and the savings can be significant. Plus, you will be helping to reduce water waste and take care of the planet.