How to Cut Your Water Usage With Graywater Systems

How to Cut Your Water Usage With Graywater Systems

Water is one of our most precious resources. As populations grow and droughts become more common, finding ways to conserve water is crucial. One effective method is using graywater systems to recycle water from household activities like laundry, bathing, and dishwashing. Installing a graywater system allows you to reuse water onsite for irrigation and other non-potable uses. This can significantly reduce your home’s water consumption.

What is Graywater?

Graywater is gently used water from sinks, showers, tubs, washing machines, and other household sources. The key distinguishing characteristic of graywater is that it does not come into contact with toilet waste, which makes it safer to reuse than blackwater from toilets.

Graywater differs from fresh potable water in the following ways:

  • Graywater contains traces of dirt, food, grease, hair, and certain household cleaning chemicals. Potable water does not.
  • Potable water is safe to drink and use for cooking and bathing. Graywater is not.
  • Graywater must be used quickly before bacteria grows. Potable water can be stored.

So in summary, graywater is non-toxic waste water that can be reused for irrigation and other purposes before it goes down the drain.

Benefits of Graywater Systems

Installing a graywater system in your home provides many benefits:

  • Saves water. Graywater systems can reduce household water use by up to 30%. This conserves our limited freshwater supplies.
  • Saves money. Lower water bills from reduced usage. Graywater systems also qualify for rebates in many areas.
  • Environmentally friendly. Recycling water lessens the burden on septic tanks and water treatment plants.
  • Uses waste. Graywater is a free source of irrigation water that would otherwise go down the drain.
  • Drought resistant landscaping. Graywater enables planting drought tolerant, low-water use plants that thrive with supplemental irrigation.

Graywater Reuse Options

There are several ways to reuse graywater onsite:

Landscape Irrigation

Using graywater for irrigation is one of the most common and beneficial uses. Graywater contains nutrients that plants thrive on. You can use graywater to water:

  • Trees and shrubs
  • Flower beds
  • Vegetable gardens
  • Lawns
  • Indoor plants

The key is using graywater quickly before bacteria builds up. Graywater should be applied subsurface via drip irrigation or soak hoses, not sprayed overhead where it could be inhaled.

Toilet Flushing

With the proper treatment and disinfection, graywater can be reused to flush toilets. This application requires collecting graywater, storing it, treating it, and pumping it back to toilets when needed.

Toilet flushing represents over 25% of indoor home water usage, so reusing graywater can significantly reduce consumption.

Other Reuse Ideas

Some additional creative ways to use graywater include:

  • Compost pile moisture and irrigation
  • Livestock watering
  • Washing cars and trucks
  • Fire suppression
  • Cooling water for equipment

The uses are limited only by your imagination! Just remember to use graywater quickly and avoid spreading disease.

Is a Graywater System Right For You?

Here are some key factors to consider when deciding if a graywater setup makes sense for your home:

  • Local codes – Many areas regulate and permit graywater systems. Make sure they are legal in your municipality.
  • Climate – Homes in warm, arid climates with irrigation needs benefit the most from graywater reuse.
  • Soil drainage – Your soil should drain well so graywater does not pool and become a mosquito breeding ground.
  • Space – Room is needed for tanks, pumps, and drainage fields if doing more than basic irrigation.
  • Landscaping – Graywater works best when you have plants and crops needing irrigation.
  • Water use – Homes using over 60 gallons per person per day will see the most significant savings.

Carefully consider these factors and consult local codes to determine if graywater is right for your residence. The benefits often outweigh the costs in the right situation.

Graywater System Components

Graywater systems can range from very simple to quite complex. Here are the main elements that may be part of your setup:

Collection Piping

The plumbing pipes that gather graywater from your household drains and divert it to the reuse system. This includes a shutoff valve to switch between the sewer and irrigation system.

Tank or Reservoir

A storage tank or pond that holds the collected graywater for reuse. This is required for more extensive systems that treat and pump graywater back into the home.

Pump and Controls

A pump, tubing, and controls that distribute the graywater to points of use around the landscape. More complex systems may filter and disinfect the water first.

Irrigation Components

The pipes, valves, and emitters required to get the graywater to the roots of your plants. Drip irrigation works best for graywater.

Overflow Drainage

An overflow route back to the conventional sewer or septic system for excess graywater. This prevents wet spots in the yard.

Graywater System Types

Graywater systems come in several different configurations:

Laundry to Landscape

The simplest and lowest cost option. Laundry drainage pipes are rerouted to discharge graywater to mulch basins or landscaping. No storage tank is used.

Branched Drain

The drain pipes from showers, tubs, and sinks are rerouted to irrigation zones around the landscape. Requires minimal new plumbing.

Full Collection System

A storage tank collects water from all drains except toilets. The water is filtered, disinfected, and pumped to reuse points.

Constructed Wetland

A constructed wetland or pond acts as a reservoir and natural biofilter to clean graywater passively without chemicals.

The system type depends on your goals, water needs, climate, budget, and local regulations. Start simple with laundry water and expand from there for more savings.

Graywater System Costs

The cost of a graywater system varies greatly based on the scale and complexity. Here are rough estimates:

  • Laundry to landscape – $200 to $800
  • Branched drain – $1000 to $4000
  • Full collection system – $5000 to $20,000
  • Constructed wetland – $2000 to $8000

Get multiple quotes from contractors to compare costs for your particular home. Also check for rebates – some utilities offer $500 to $1000 rebates to help offset costs.

The savings on your water bill from reduced usage will ultimately pay back the system cost. Ongoing operation and maintenance costs are minimal.

Graywater Rules and Regulations

It is crucial to check local codes and get proper permits for graywater systems. Rules vary significantly region to region. Here are some key legal considerations:

  • Permits – Most areas require permits for any kind of graywater plumbing.
  • Health codes – Follow all regulations concerning handling untreated non-potable water.
  • System type – Some jurisdictions only allow simple laundry to landscape setups.
  • Tank size – The allowed graywater storage tank volume may be limited.
  • Backflow prevention – Use proper backflow valves to keep graywater completely separated from potable water.
  • Usage – Graywater is usually restricted to subsurface irrigation uses and prohibited from above ground contact.

Research the laws for your area and consult local building officials early in the planning process. They will guide you through the permitting and inspection requirements.

Choosing a Graywater System Contractor

Select qualified professionals to design and install your graywater system:

  • Licensed plumbers – Ensure they have experience with graywater plumbing.
  • Irrigation specialists – For designing and making the irrigation connections.
  • Electricians – As needed for pumps, controls, and electrical connections.
  • Wastewater engineers – If doing a large constructed wetland or treatment system.

When selecting a contractor:

  • Ask for references of past graywater projects.
  • Verify all necessary licenses and insurance.
  • Get 3+ written estimates to compare costs.
  • Choose an experienced contractor who can pull permits.
  • Look for one who provides ongoing service and support.

Doing your homework will ensure a successful project.

Maintaining and Troubleshooting Graywater Systems

Graywater systems require minimal but consistent maintenance. Follow these tips:

  • Inspect irrigation lines yearly and fix leaks or clogs.
  • Confirm the drainage is effective and not pooling water.
  • Check tanks and wetland plants for odor or mosquito issues.
  • Flush out pipes at least annually to control slime buildup.
  • Replace pumps and filters as needed per manufacturer instructions.
  • Test graywater quality if using for indoor reuse.
  • Keep good records of all maintenance and repairs.

Proper maintenance will keep your system operating safely and efficiently for decades.

Getting Started With Graywater

Hopefully this overview has piqued your interest in graywater systems. Here are some steps to get started:

  • Research your local codes and permitting.
  • Analyze your current water usage and landscape needs.
  • Map out a preliminary system design and layout.
  • Price quotes from experienced graywater contractors.
  • Apply for any available rebates.
  • Install the simplest viable system for your needs.
  • Expand and add components over time.

With careful planning and execution, integrating a graywater system into your home is a great way to slash water usage and bills. Our freshwater supplies are limited, so reusing water judiciously makes good economic and environmental sense. The technology available today makes graywater collection extremely feasible for most homes. Consider joining the growing movement of using graywater for a greener landscape!