The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Low tech greywater treatment

Drain out Back greywater systemThe simplest type of greywater system is what Art Ludwig calls the drain out back.  In other words, you take the pipe from your sink or bathtub and run it to an out-of-the-way location to leach directly into the soil.

We only have running water in one location in the house (the kitchen sink), and our original treatment system soon devolved into a drain out back when I didn't have enough wood chips on hand to replace the mulch.  As long as your outlet isn't close to a stream or to a direct route into the groundwater (such as a sinkhole), this low tech solution really isn't so bad.  Yes, the ground gets a bit swampy there, but the soil microorganisms make short work of nutrients and germs in the water, and by the time the liquid seeps down into the groundwater, it's pure.  In most states, new systems of this type are probably illegal, but even the regulators don't really care as long as your system is grandfathered in and doesn't bother your neighbors.

Greywater shower gardenAn alternative extremely low tech solution is what Art Ludwig calls "landscape direct".  We use this technique by setting our wringer washer in the middle of the yard and simply dumping the used wash water into the ground.  A more elegant incarnation is the bathing garden illustrated in Create an Oasis with Greywater, which consists of a raised, cobbled mound on which you shower, underlain by sand to expedite drainage, and surrounded by plants to soak up the water.

The main problem with low tech systems like these is loss of efficiency.  If you live in a very dry climate, every drop of water is precious, so it's worth spending a bit more effort to ensure your greywater ends up feeding plants.  Stay tuned for the rest of the lunchtime series (picking back up Thursday after our regular book club discussion) for slightly higher tech, and more efficient, greywater options.

Weekend Homesteader walks you through fun and easy projects to get you started on the path to self-sufficiency.

This post is part of our Create an Oasis with Greywater lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I have been looking into a Subsurface flow constructed wetland to preserve our greywater and make the best use of it. I would want to place a valve on each water source to allow us to switch back to the current septic field system as a backup, and have filtration for grease/sediment as well as a surge tank for overflow at the top end close to the house. Then there would be 2-3 redundant pipes routing the flow into the constructed wetland, through a subsurface sand/gravel bed and up into a pool of aquatic plants to process the "grey" out and discharge clean water at the end. I would love to hear the inventor's remarks on that type of design!

I will have to size the wetland carefully based on our water usage to insure the water coming out the end has had enough "processing". We have a decent amount of slope into woods behind our house, so my plan is to route the water through a few pools/ponds and create water-loving microclimates around them. I would rather use rainwater collection for watering the annual gardens close to the house (Zones 0-3), and use greywater as part of a semi-wild ecology.

Comment by Chris Tue Aug 14 13:28:49 2012
Chris --- That's actually top of my list right now too. It's got a lot of advantages for those of us who live in wet climates (so greywater isn't as precious) with cold winters (so greywater is hard to use during the dormant season). Stay tuned for a later post on the issue, and meanwhile, I hope you'll let me know how it goes if you start experimenting before we do!
Comment by anna Tue Aug 14 13:39:30 2012

I would have thought that a greywater system as described in the article would be much too involved for you? With the filters and grease trap &c.

What you're basically building is a small-scale sewage treatment plant, but without a disinfection stage.

Comment by Roland_Smith Tue Aug 14 16:50:58 2012
Roland --- Well, I was going to delete the grease trap and surge tank since I've read they're more trouble than they're worth. The system I'm looking at is much simpler, as you'll see in a later post --- just greywater running through gravel with plants on top.
Comment by anna Tue Aug 14 18:00:26 2012
This has been on the back of my mind for some time, in one shape or another. seems like such a waste to send shower water down the drain. I have a creek for my garden but thats too much work and time for grass. I did do a rain barrel for the grass in my front yard.
Comment by Irma Wed Aug 15 21:43:32 2012

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