A sprinkler that's part of a greywater system irrigating a lawn

According to the Philadelphia water department, the average American family uses more than 300 gallons (1,135.62 liters) of water daily.

Surprisingly, a significant percentage of this water goes to waste as greywater from sinks, bathtubs, and laundry machines, increasing water bills. A greywater system can help you conserve this water for use somewhere else and reduce your home’s water bills.

Since home greywater systems are among the emerging technologies, this article aims to answer your commonly asked questions. It will enlighten you on the basics of this system so you can determine if it’s worth the investment.

So, let’s get started!

What is a Home Greywater System?

A home greywater system is a water recycling system that captures water from your home and reuses it for purposes like irrigation and flushing toilets. So, instead of draining water from bathtubs, showers, sinks, laundry machines, and dishwater to the septic systems, you can recycle it.

Can You Drink Greywater?

You can’t drink greywater as it has the potential to carry bacteria and viruses. Greywater has already been used for other purposes like showering, dishwashing, and laundry. Such water may contain traces of dirt, grease, food particles, or other contaminants that are unsafe for humans. 

Drinking greywater can expose you to the following:

  • Bacteria and viruses
  • Chemicals from cleaning products
  • Heavy metals from pipes

What Is the Difference Between Greywater and Blackwater?

Wastewateris classified as either black or grey. The main difference between the two is that while greywater comes from laundering, washing, showering, or bathing, blackwater comes from urinals and toilets.

A jar of dehumidified and greywater side-by-side on a table
A greywater sample at left. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Blackwater is more dangerous and unhygienic since it contains fecal matter and urine. Recycling such water requires more intense treatment compared to greywater because it can carry diseases and harmful bacteria.

Does a Greywater System Need Special Maintenance?

A greywater system needs maintenance just like any other appliance in your home. However, it doesn’t require special care unless damaged. 

Some recommended greywater system maintenance tips include the following:

  • Clean the filters regularly – greywater may contain soapy waste and debris that may block the system’s filters with time. Therefore, routinely cleaning the filters is advisable to keep the system running efficiently. Cleaning the filter is simple, with the only focus being to clear blockages.
  • Monitor greywater quality – you can use a green drop kit or other testing kits to check for contaminants and pollutants before using the greywater for irrigation or flushing toilets.
  • Ensure proper usage – greywater systems are designed for specific types of wastewater. Please don’t use them to dispose of blackwater or hazardous chemicals.
  • Stir up the tank regularly –  you should keep it clean by stirring it up with a broom or a long rod and flushing it. In doing so, you prevent the accumulation of debris that can block water flow.
  • Don’t keep greywater stagnant in the tank – greywater systems have pumps designed to pump out the water once it reaches a certain level. You should keep the system functioning to prevent the water from stagnating in the tank, which can cause blockages.

Can Greywater Be Used for Irrigation?

You can use greywater for irrigation, provided you only put biodegradable products down the drain. Non-biodegradable products threaten your property as they deplete the soil’s fertility if allowed to penetrate it. Moreover, they make the soil’s pH too acidic or alkaline, which is unsuitable for crops.

Although kitchen sink water is categorized as grey, it requires further treatment before being used for irrigation. This water contains high grease, harming plants and clogging irrigation systems.

A homeowner pre-rinses a mug before putting it in the dishwasher

It’s always wise to check with your local regulations regarding using greywater for irrigation before starting a greywater system. Some states restrict the amount of greywater you can use for irrigation. Furthermore, there might be specific guidelines for greywater use in your state.

Do I Need a Permit to Install a Greywater System?

States and countries have different regulations regarding the use of greywater systems. Therefore, it comes down to where you live and the country’s regulations. The best way around this is to err on the side of caution and consult your local authorities.

Many states require you to have licensed permits before installing greywater collection systems throughout your home (including laundry room and shower greywater collection appliances).

Can a Greywater System Save You Money?

A greywater system can save you money by reducing your water consumption. For example, instead of using fresh water for irrigation or flushing toilets, you can redirect the recycled greywater to these tasks. This setup not only conserves water but also reduces your water bills.

Moreover, a greywater system helps preserve the environment by reducing strain on water supplies and wastewater management systems like sewer lines. It may even increase your property’s value if you plan to sell it in the future.

When used properly, the system can save approximately 2,600 gallons (9,842.07 liters) of water annually. 

Let’s do some math to find out how much you can save on this:

Ten gallons (38 liters) of water costs approximately three cents in the U.S. Recycling 2,600 gallons (9,842 liters) means you save { (2,600 ÷ 10) • 3 } = $780. This figure is a good amount to save on your water bills annually.

Can Greywater Be Used for Drip Irrigation?

Drip irrigation is an excellent way to deliver water to plants in a controlled manner, as it reduces water waste by only targeting specific areas. However, this irrigation system uses tubings with tiny emitters.

Greywater is often contaminated with small debris, such as soap particles and powdered detergents. These clogs can drastically hinder your greywater drip irrigation system. In addition, such blockages can cost a lot to unclog since you’ll have to go through the entire irrigation system to check and remove the blockages.

With that knowledge, you can only use greywater for drip irrigation if proper safety care is implemented. 

Some of the things you can do include:

  • Filter the greywater thoroughly – before releasing the water to the irrigation system, ensure it’s properly filtered and the debris removed.
Diagram of a DIY Greywater System
Courtesy of ClimateBiz
  • Clean the filter regularly – install a filter cleaning system or clean it by hand. You want the filter always clean to prevent debris from blocking your irrigation emitters.
  • Regularly maintain drip irrigation tubing – check for blockages and clean them out regularly to prevent greywater buildup in the tubing.
  • Consult a professional – before using greywater for drip irrigation, it’s best to consult a professional who can provide personalized advice for your system’s safety.

Can I Store Greywater?

You should never store greywater as this can cause blockages and foul smells.

Unlike rainwater, you should use greywater within 24 hours of collection. This consideration is because automatic greywater feeders typically drip the water into the soil, preventing it from backing up.

The primary reason you should avoid long-term greywater storage is that it’s prone to bacterial growth. Stagnant water can grow mold and mildew, especially when it’s been used to clean food particles, body oils, and other organic debris.

You can use various filtration methods (such as cheesecloth or automatic feeders with filters) to get rid of the bacteria in your greywater system. That said, you should still use it as quickly as possible.

Once you’ve used the stored greywater, it’s also essential to properly clean and maintain your system to prevent any accumulation that can cause problems.

Can I Use Greywater for a Creek or Pond?

You can’t use greywater in creeks or ponds around your home because it contains detergents, soaps, and other contaminants that can harm living organisms. While greywater is excellent for plants, it’s awful for fish and other aquatic bacteria that need to thrive in the pond or creek.

An outstretched arm pouring a glass of water on to one of two plants placed next to each other

If you’re determined to use greywater in your pond or stream, filter it heavily. Filtered greywater can be used to water the plants around the body of water, but never pour it directly into the body of water.

Final Thoughts

Greywater systems provide an efficient way to recycle water and reduce water bills. However, you must follow the correct procedure and guidelines for safety. 

Finally, you should check with your local authority to know what the law says about installing and using greywater filtration.

Best of luck setting up your system!


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