A Beginner's Guide to Graywater Reuse
So you've decided to install a graywater reuse system at your house, but don't know exactly where to start? Don't worry — these systems can seem intimidating, but we're here to show you just how easy water reuse can be. We consulted with Laura Allen, co-founder of Greywater Action — For a Sustainable Water Culture, to make sure we're bringing you the best information. For those of you reading this and thinking "What's this graywater stuff?" it's the water from sinks, showers, tubs, and washing machines, but not from toilets. It can be a great source of nutrients for irrigating plants, but often this water is simply wasted. Whether you've already dedicated yourself to the cause or only just heard of the idea, read on for some expert tips on how to make the installation and use of graywater systems easier.
Keep it simple. Graywater systems don't have to be complicated. Allen recommends using the washing machine, or laundry-to-landscape, system for your first time. "It doesn't involve a permit and it's pretty technically simple to install; it just takes basic handyperson skills," Allen said. Look at these handy step-by-step instructions and photographs from Greywater Action to help you along the way.
Choose your plants wisely. Decide which plants are right for this kind of irrigation system. Larger plants like fruit trees and bigger perennials are the easiest to irrigate with a simple graywater system, Allen said. You can still irrigate smaller plants if you want, but be sure that the graywater doesn't come in contact with any edible parts of these plants.
Lose the chemicals. Using chemical-heavy soaps and detergents can cause serious damage to plants. Allen recommends especially steering clear of those with salt and boron. It's also important to avoid bleach, dyes, and any unpronounceable ingredients. Switch over to graywater-friendly products that are all-natural and biodegradable, when possible.
Do your reading. Congratulations, you've already started this step! Be sure to check out different irrigation systems and try to resist the urge to come up with a huge graywater invention that will soon become too complicated. Allen swears by the San Francisco Graywater Design Manual for Outdoor Irrigation, which includes step-by-step instructions and is free to download online.
Determine your needs. "You really need to think about how much graywater you use and how much your plants want," Allen said. There's a huge variety of graywater systems, and understanding your irrigation needs and your budget is crucial in determining the best system for your home.
Research your state code. Regulations around graywater reuse systems can be extremely different, and it's important for you to research what the rules are in your area. Your local agency can be a great resource, but don’t be discouraged if someone there tells you it’s not allowed, because it can take a while for local systems to become informed of changes to state code, according to Allen. “Doing your own research first is the best way to go,” she said.
Ask for help. If you opt for the laundry-to-landscape system and are not used to working with power tools, don't be afraid to ask for help with drilling to get to the pipe. If you decide to try the more complex shower system, you will want to hire a skilled person to help since you will be altering the plumbing in order to install the diverter valve.
Have fun. "It's a fun and empowering system because you're retaking control of the water flowing through your house," Allen said. Plus your home is greener thanks to the saved water.
--Image by John Russel
Jessica Zischke is an editorial intern at Sierra. She is currently studying environmental studies at Dartmouth College, where she also works as a staff writer for The Dartmouth newspaper.