plumbing company San Diego CA
plumbing company San Diego CA

Easy Ways to Recycle Water to Fight Drought

Californians could be saving up to 50,000 gallons of water—and about $400—a year if they recycle water in their household.

If you live in a drought-stricken state (the hardest hit has been California, but Nevada and Oregon are feeling pretty dry these days, too), you’ve probably seen your water bills skyrocketing in response to the shortage. Here’s a way to recycle water that you probably haven’t thought of: Take a shower. Brush your teeth. Do some laundry. It’s called greywater recycling. And it works.

What’s greywater, anyway?

recycle water San Diego CA“Greywater” refers to gently used household wastewater—like the runoff from doing laundry,  washing dishes, or brushing your teeth. (Toilet wastewater is referred to as “blackwater” for fairly obvious and unpleasant reasons.)

In a greywater system, that used water gets routed through a second set of pipes to feed your outdoor plants. And since the  biggest household use of water is for irrigation, this can have a substantial impact on your expenses. Bonus: It helps the environment, too!

How much you’ll spend, how much you’ll save

A study commissioned by the city of Santa Rosa, CA, reported that a “laundry-to-landscape” greywater system would save 15 gallons of water per person, per day. Recycling greywater from bathroom sinks and showers saves an additional 25 gallons of water per person; some systems can save 50,000 gallons a year. It’ll also save about $400 a year on water bills, according to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

“It takes about 50 gallons of water for me to water my fruit trees,” says Leigh Jerrard, owner of Greywater Corps, a company that specializes in the technology. “If I give my son a bath, 50 gallons of water go down the drain.”

DIY types who know their way around the plumbing aisles of Lowe’s can get a greywater system up and running for a few hundred dollars over the course of a weekend thanks to this free guidebook created by the city of San Francisco. Sure, for the nonhandy, it’s best to consult with a professional first. Jerrard can install a simple one in a day for about $2,000.

A low-tech gravity flow system—so named because it uses gravity instead of a pump to let the water flow downward—that includes bathtubs, showers, and bathroom sinks will  cost about $4,000. (When we spoke to Jerrard, he was installing one in Ed “eco-friendly” Begley Jr.’s house.) Wanna really go nuts? A top-of-the-line system that directs water from multiple showers, sinks, and bathtubs to multiple irrigation zones, with a self-cleaning filter, will set you back about $20,000.

Go easy on the soaps—and yourself

Jerrard suggests that newbies start with the laundry-to-landscape system. (For health reasons, greywater shouldn’t be used on vegetable gardens or grass.)  Because the water comes directly out of the washing machine, no plumbing lines have to be cut; therefore, in many states including California, no permit is required.

But be mindful of what’s in your greywater. Trees and soil can handle most natural soap products just fine, but cleaning products that are laden with salt, phosphates, and other chemicals can be problematic. The Ecology Center in Berkeley, CA, keeps an ongoing list of what products should and shouldn’t be used by greywater recycling households.

“Generally, I would argue that if you don’t want it to touch your soil, then you probably don’t want it to touch your skin,” says Jerrard.

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Posted on by bmpadm in Featured, Plumbing