Types of simple greywater systems

Greywater recycling systems in conjunction with rainwater tanks can save huge quantities of water which is especially important in water scarce nations such as South Africa. When using laundry water, ensure that eco-friendly, phosphate-free detergents are used. And remember the golden rule: never store grey water in drums or water tanks for more than 24 hours. The article below outlines some of the different types of grey water systems that can be installed.greywater tanks

From the Washing Machine

Washing machines are typically the easiest source of greywater to reuse because greywater can be diverted without cutting into existing plumbing. Each machine has an internal pump that automatically pumps out the water- you can use that to your advantage to pump the greywater directly to your plants.

Laundry Drum:

Drum should be strapped to wall for safety.Drum should be strapped to wall for safety.If you don’t want to invest much money the system (maybe you are a renter), or have a lot of hardscape (concrete/patio) between your house and the area to irrigate, we recommend a laundry drum system.

Wash water is pumped into a “drum,” a large barrel or temporary storage called a surge tank. At the bottom of the drum the water drains out into a hose that is moved around the yard to irrigate. This is the cheapest and easiest system to install, but requires constant moving of the hose for it to be effective at irrigating.

Laundry to Landscape (aka drumless laundry):

If you’re looking for system that gives you flexibility in what plants you’re able irrigate and takes very little maintenance, we recommend the laundry to landscape type system.

In this system the hose leaving the washing machine is attached to a valve that allows for easy switching between the greywater system and the sewer. The greywater goes to 1″ irrigation line with outlets sending water to specific plants. This system is low cost, easy to install, and gives huge flexibility for irrigation. In most situations this is the number one place to start when choosing a greywater system!

From the Shower:

Showers are a great source of greywater- they usually produce a lot of relatively clean water. To have a simple, effective shower system you will want a gravity-based system (no pump). If your yard is located uphill from the house, then you’ll need to have a pumped system.

Branched Drain:

gray water recyclingGreywater in this system flows through standard (1 1/2″ size) drainage pipe, by gravity, always sloping downward at 2% slope, or 1/4 inch drop for every foot travelled horizontally, and the water is divided up into smaller and smaller quantities using a plumbing fitting that splits the flow. The final outlet of each branch flows into a mulched basin, usually to irrigate the root zone of trees or other large perennials. Branched drain systems are time consuming to install, but once finished require very little maintenance and work well for the long term.

From the Sinks:

Kitchen sinks are the source of a fair amount of water, usually very high in organic matter (food, grease, etc.). Kitchen sinks are not allowed under many greywater codes, but are allowed in some states, like Montana. This water will clog many kinds of systems. To avoid clogging, we recommend branched drains to large mulch basins. Much less water passes through bathroom sinks. If combined with the shower water it will fall under the shower system, if used alone, it can be drained to a single large plant, or have the flow split to irrigate two or three plants.

Constructed Wetlands:

Wetland planter ecologically disposes greywater from an office with no sewer hookup.Wetland planter ecologically disposes greywater from an office with no sewer hookup.If you produce more greywater than you need for irrigation, a constructed wetland can be incorporated into your system to “ecologically dispose” of some of the greywater. Wetlands absorb nutrients and filter particles from greywater, enabling it to be stored or sent through a properly designed drip irrigation system (a sand filter and pump will also be needed- this costs more money). Greywater is also a good source of irrigation for beautiful, water loving wetland plants. If you live near a natural waterway, a wetland can protect the creek from nutrient pollution that untreated greywater would provide. If you live in an arid climate, or are trying to reduce your fresh water use, we don’t recommend incorporating wetlands into greywater systems as they use up a lot of the water which could otherwise be used for irrigation.

Pumped Systems:

If you can’t use gravity to transport the greywater (your yard is sloped uphill, or it’s flat and the plants are far away) you will need a “drum with effluent pump” system. The water flows into a large (usually 50 gallon) plastic drum that is either buried or located at ground level. In the drum a pump pushes the water out through irrigation lines (no emitters) to the landscape.

Indoor Greywater use

In most residential situations it is much simpler and more economical to utilize greywater outside, and not create a system that treats the water for indoor use. The exceptions are in houses that have high water use and minimal outdoor irrigation, and for larger buildings like apartments.

There are also very simple ways to reuse greywater inside that are not a “greywater system”. Buckets can catch greywater and clear water, the water wasted while warming up a shower. These buckets can be used to “bucket flush” a toilet, or carried outside. There are also simple designs like Sink Positive, and more complicated systems like the Brac system. Earthships have an interesting system that reuse greywater inside with greenhouse wetlands.

Source: Greywater Action (Excerpts, edited).

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