Grey Water Recycling

Neil Purdy


Grey Water Recycling is a process in which you reuse and redirect water to essentially get more use out of the water you have already purchased from the city.  Any wash water that has been used in the home, except water from toilets is called grey water.  Dishwashers, showers, sinks and laundry water comprise 50 – 80% of residential “waste” water.  This type of water may be reused for other purposes, especially landscape irrigation.

In order to get started in using something like this for residential use, you need to determine why you think you would need it.  People who have these types of systems usually live in water scarce environments such as California, Arizona, New Mexico, Georgia and other southern drought regions.  Others who use it are people interested in limiting water consumption and/or are trying to save or earn money.  Many residential owners have landscaping on their property which requires a lot of water to maintain.  If you live in one of the above regions, you may be limited or even prohibited from using water to maintain your plants or lawn.

Environment conservation is great to those who can afford to do something about it.  In this economy many people are worried about losing their home, not installing more features to it that will use less water.  So how affordable is this type of system?  There are some under the sink type systems used for one toilet that is about $100 - $200.  More advanced systems can run $2,000 - $2,500.  These estimates are for a home that is already built.  If you incorporate this type of system in a home’s design it will be much less and therefore won’t cost as much to pay back.

According to Rebecca Rossi, Illinois doesn’t allow construction of this type of system; however, if done by yourself they really can’t stop you.  So that is a major deterrent for this area, other cons besides installing it yourself include upfront costs and changing the filter once a month.  The pros outweigh the cons though significantly.  This system; lowers fresh water use, puts less strain on failing septic tanks or treatment plants, better treatment (topsoil is many times more effective than subsoil), less energy and chemical use, groundwater recharge, and most importantly it saves both money and the environment.

There are some questions about this system being safe, the answer is that it is!  There are eight million grey water systems in the US with 22 million users.  In 60 years, there has been one billion system user-years of exposure, yet there has not been one documented case of grey water transmitted illness.  While this system doesn’t turn shower water back into tap water which would be safe for drinking, if you leave the toilet lid up and the family dog licks the water, your dog will still be fine.  The chemicals are designed to filter some of the water to remove harmful detergents from your washing machine or dishwasher.

Since this system reuses water you have already paid for from the city or municipality, it is in essence the same as using the water twice such as a buy one get one free.  This can mean savings of 25 – 40% off your water bill depending on your current usage.  If you have a big yard and landscape, then this system would be ideal for you.  These estimates are also based on 160 gallon tank and a family of four.  If you live by yourself and would only use the water for your toilet, it might not be as cost effective.

When Georgia went through a string of droughts these past few summers, they were actually thinking of piping water from surrounding states to fulfill their water needs.  If all new houses required this type of system to be installed, then we would have plenty of water to take on a project of diverting some water to scarcer parts of the United States.  We already do the same thing with energy, if one area isn’t using as much, it gets transferred to another part of the US, so why not do the same thing with other resources.

Some skeptics also argue that this type of system might not work in colder climates such as Illinois.  The truth is that it will.  The pipes are in a continuous downhill slope in all collection and distribution plumbing which ensures that there isn’t any standing water to freeze.  Also, it would be recommended to insulate the system anyway.  Insulating the system can actually warm it up a few degrees which will require less energy to get water hot enough to wash your hands or to take a shower.

While there are alternative solutions already in place in some areas, I think that all types of systems are useful if it saves money and the environment.  Water savers on fixtures which slightly reduce water output is a great way of saving water in the home and doesn’t cost much.  Energy saving appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers, and refrigerators that use less energy and water are also a very good way at reducing resources but yet your clothes still get the same wash as another type of system.  The water scarce states of Arizona and Georgia are already using rain barrels as well.  Just a couple of inches of rain on a standard size roof can collect enough water to fill up two rain barrels.  Using methods of using and reusing the earth’s natural resources is not only a smart way of saving money, but an effective way at ensuring that people adapt to using these resources for a very long time to come.

I would definitely recommend the grey water system in addition to other water saving practices already in place.  If not for saving the environment or “going green”, I would recommend it for reducing your water bill or eventually giving you “free” water with the savings you would gain from it.