At my place, we have a 2x2 PVC pipe painted a poopy brown color that emerges out of the side of the house and runs to the backyard. Flattering, I know. I’ll admit, I think this pipe is in for a paint color change, but it’s purpose remains the same. The pipe carries greywater (ironic, huh?) from the washing machine to thirsty plants in the backyard that don’t mind guzzling a little bit of dirty but safe water.
This pipe composes what you could call a very simple greywater system. And (surprise!) that is what we are going to talk about today. This article will detail everything you should know about greywater systems and their pros and cons.
If you want to answer the monumental question of whether or not you should install a greywater system, you should probably first know what greywater is, right?
Well, its name actually says quite a lot about it: it tends to be slightly gray (or grey depending on your preference). Greywater is lightly used water from your sinks, showers, and washing machines that has no poop in it. Instead, greywater contains a whole lot of grease, pieces of food, human hair and skin, and dirt—among other things. Yum, yum.
Although it might sound disgusting, greywater is actually pretty safe to reuse in some circumstances. Clearly, greywater contains less pathogens than black water (water from your toilets that has fecal matter in it.) All the same, greywater can still carry some pathogens, especially if it has trace amounts of fecal matter in it, but in general, greywater is much safer to handle than blackwater. Depending upon what kind of products you use around the house, greywater can also be completely safe for your plants. (We’ll get into that below.) But because greywater can be considered a pollutant (in some circumstances and states), we encourage you to first check with your local and state authorities before you decide whether or not to install a greywater system. Fair enough?
Okay, so you’ve checked with your authorities and will continue to keep local and state regulations in mind as we move forward; so what the heck is a greywater system?
Here’s the very simple explanation: a greywater system allows you to bypass your main septic tank (used for blackwater) and repurpose your greywater. Now, there are many ways that this can be done, which is what we will dive into in the next section, so don’t lose interest just yet!
There are plenty of greywater collection systems out there, ranging from simple to more complex. Here are some of the most common:
A laundry-to-landscape system allows you to switch the greywater flow between your septic system and your greywater system. Since your washing machine already has a pump installed inside it, you won’t need to purchase a pump for this system. A laundry-to-landscape greywater system leads greywater from your washing machine directly to individual plants in your yard, hence its very descriptive name! This is a highly effective system that is pretty easy to install/maintain.
There are also simpler versions of this sort of system. For example, some people find it best to run their pipe from the washing machine to a greywater reservoir (normally just a blue drum or large barrel) and water their landscape plants from there. Just keep in mind, if you store greywater for more than 24 hours, it can start to stink!
One great system you could choose to install is a branched drain system. It uses gravity to direct greywater out into a branching system of smaller and smaller pipes that are buried under your yard. Each of these pipes leads to a mulched bed. The mulch helps to capture any debris that might sneak into the system and allows them to decompose naturally. All in all, this system is difficult to install, but it doesn’t require much maintenance after that.
So far, we haven’t really talked about any greywater systems that require you to purchase and install a pump. (Your washing machine already has a pump installed, so it doesn’t count!) If you want to collect water from a source inside your home, but you can’t gravity feed it to your plants, a pumped system is probably your best bet.
A pumped system works by routing greywater to a reservoir (again, normally a blue drum or large barrel). A pump installed inside the barrel then pumps the greywater out through irrigation lines to your landscape plants. This system, like some of the other more complex systems, can get more expensive to install—not to mention the hit to your electrical bill by running a pump!
As hinted above, there are a few different places you could collect greywater from.
As per my personal example, a washing machine is the single most accessible and abundant source of greywater in your home. Washing machines have a drain from which the wash water is pumped after you run a load.
Collecting this greywater can be as easy as connecting a pipe (like my trusty poop-colored PVC extravaganza!) to the washing machine’s drain and routing that pipe wherever you want. Or it can be more sophisticated, like with the laundry-to-landscape or branched drain systems. And remember: washing machines have a pump already installed inside the machine that forces water out through the drain. So you don’t even have to invest in a pump!
By far, connecting to your washing machine is the easiest way to collect greywater. However, another, slightly more involved way to do it is to tap into your shower drains and/or your bathroom sink drains. Showers and bathroom sink drains can provide you some pretty clean greywater. (So clean, in fact, that it might not even look gray!)
Now, this one comes with a caveat: only a few states allow you to collect greywater from your kitchen sinks. Please be sure to check your state regulations before you move forward with any greywater collection from your kitchen sinks!
Beyond the restrictions, it can be very difficult to tap into your kitchen sinks, and the greywater from this source can tend to cause clogs (since most of us throw a lot of food waste into our kitchen sinks). If you choose to install a system that connects to your kitchen sinks (assuming you can legally do so), a branched drain system will probably work best, since this system allows food waste to decompose in the mulch beds.
So now that you’ve got some serious knowledge under your belt about greywater systems, let’s get to what we all really want to know: why would you install a greywater system in the first place? In other words, what are the pros and cons of having a greywater system?
On top of that, you should make sure to use only safe products around the house. Some products (especially those with bleach, lots of salt, or boron) can harm your plants (or you!). Sometimes even products that tout themselves as “natural” will still include ingredients that are dangerous for humans and/or plant and animal life. We recommend using bacteria-based products, such as Super Digest-It Safe Drain Opener, around the house instead of chemical products.
By redirecting greywater, you’re taking a weight off your septic system’s shoulders and hopefully adding many more years to its life. Plus, you get tons of greywater to repurpose! That’s a win-win situation if you ask me.
So is a greywater system right for you? That is, and still remains, the question.
In the last analysis, I’d answer yes, especially if you intend to go the simple route and hook up only to your washing machine. But of course, the ultimate decision is up to you. Only, make sure you are familiar with all your local and state regulations for greywater collection before you take that final step.
Remember, a healthy wastewater system—either grey or black—is a happy wastewater system. The best way to make sure your system is happy and healthy is to use the right products and proper care procedures in it, which is why high-quality, bacteria and enzyme treatments like Septic System Digester are so effective.
If you run into any snags along the way, we’re here to help! Please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to talk to you and answer any questions or concerns you might have!
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