A Graywater Garden Means More Green All Around

Oct 11 2012

You probably just spent the whole summer figuring out how to cut your water usage, even if your home isn’t in the region of burn bans and bootleg fireworks. You’re probably looking forward to a comfortably cool autumn in which you don’t shower with a stopwatch in one hand—a season where you can let loose and not worry too much about A/C, heat, or water. A low-maintenance, cider-saturated Oktoberfest of sorts.

Before you start carving your state fair-worthy pumpkin, though, think about this: water and energy conservation is a year-round affair. A more appealing way to put it: saving money is a year-round endeavor. If you want to make your lifestyle a bit more eco-friendly and also save a good chunk of money on your water bills, a graywater garden is a really good way to make the most of the water you already use.

“Gray” water is water that’s been used already but can be reused to water the garden, flush a toilet, and so on. Graywater methods focus on limiting water usage, and also revealing how much water we waste or use in a very limited capacity.

Laundry to Landscape: This graywater system transports water from your washing machine to your garden via PVC piping. You would need to install a three-way diverter valve in the laundry room—this part will run you a little under $50, but it’s by far the most expensive piece of the system. From the diverter, the water flows through a series of PVC pipes into a trench in your garden. It goes through a sort of one-way gate to prevent it from getting back to the washing machine and dirtying your clean laundry, and to act as a vent. You’ll probably spend most of your time preparing the trench in the garden—but overall, the whole process would take around 3 – 5 hours. That’s a relatively short amount of time for a lot of money and resources saved. (You could start ordering the fancy coffee in the morning!)

Keep in mind that you’ll have to do some research on plant-friendly detergent, because even some eco-friendly options contain different forms of sodium that are harmful the soil.

Budget-friendly Bucket Method: I used this method for a few years in college, when I was trying to live sustainably in a “vintage” home. Basically, I got a sturdy plastic bucket from a local hardware store. I put the bucket in my kitchen sink. Whenever I washed produce, dishes, or my hands, I would position the faucet over the bucket so that it collected the “gray” water. I would use all the water collected from one day to water the small garden in the backyard (which, incidentally, was actually the neighbors’ backyard). I tried, for a brief period, to use the graywater to flush the toilet in my bathroom. Alas, my roommates and I found that bits of leftover food in the unused toilet bowl were disconcerting, to put it politely.

DIY Rain Barrel: If you live in an area that gets a decent amount of rainfall throughout the year, or even during one particular season, a rain barrel is a cheap and easy way to collect and use graywater. Pick up one (or a few) 55-gallon plastic drum with an intake hole in the top. Create a small drainage hole on the top and another toward the bottom. In the top intake hole, install the male components of a faucet and a washer on the inside of the hole to create a water-tight seal. Install a plastic or nylon screen to use as a filter for the intake hole. Also, make sure to keep your barrel a small distance from the ground: use bricks or wood planks to elevate it a few inches. From there, modify as necessary for your particular gardening needs.

There are plenty of professional graywater systems that you can have installed around the house, but a graywater garden is a good way to experiment and see what works for your home. And in the end, you’ll only be saving money. What’s not to love?

Tim Hughes Custom Homes is one of the leading custom home builders in Oklahoma City.
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