Turning Grey Water Green – The Untapped Potential for Saving Water

August 24, 2010 at 1:55 pm 9 comments

Photo provided by http://www.inhabitat.com

Since water is so cheap and readily available in Madison, it’s easy to forget that on a global scale we are experiencing a water crisis.  The non-profit group Charity Water estimates that while the average American may use 150 gallons of water per day, those in developing countries cannot find five.   About 30% of the potable water used inside the average American home is flushed right down the toilet!  Only 2% of drinking-water quality water is used for drinking and cooking.  The good news is that there is an alternative.  We can conserve water by collecting “greywater” that would otherwise go directly to the sewer and reuse it.

Greywater is wastewater usually generated from the following three sources:

1)  Washing Machines    2)  Sinks    3)  Showers

Water flushed from toilets and water used to launder soiled diapers must still go straight to the sewer or septic tank.  And water from kitchen sinks and dishwashers is generally avoided for reuse because it tends to contain food particles and grease which can smell and clog the system.  But there are many different greywater systems available and they vary dramatically.  Greywater is great for flushing toilets.  Using grey water for subsurface lawn and garden irrigation can get a little complicated due to health and soil quality concerns.  To keep things simple you may want to use greywater for flushing toilets and get a rain barrel for outdoor watering needs.  Greywater systems can be both designed for new homes or retrofitted to many existing homes.  If you want to get creative, you may want to explore the Greywater Action website.  However, for most of us, installing a successful grey water system is not a do-it-yourself project.  I recommend doing a lot of research and planning to find a set up that works for your specific situation and then hire a plumber (and a landscape contractor if you are installing an irrigation system).

Although greywater systems in the U.S. are currently a novelty, they will likely become a necessity in the near future.  Policies differ between states.  Arizona has been the most progressive in encouraging greywater use.  Residents can receive up to $1,000 for installing a gray water system through their Gray Water Conservation Tax Credit law and most home systems do not require a permit.  The city of Tucson even passed an ordinance requiring all new homes to be greywater plumbing-ready with the intention of making conservation the rule and not the exception.  The Wisconsin Uniform Plumbing Code allows for the reuse of graywater and stormwater in plumbing systems.  Contact the Wisconsin Department of Commerce for the most current rules and regulations.

The Brac RGW-250 Grey Water System

Rich Wegner from Village Plumbing Co. came to Madison Environmental Group to teach us about grey water systems.  We liked him from the moment he took the Brac RGW-250 out of the back of his Prius!  Greywater enters the unit and is filtered through your choice of a reusable cloth filter or a disposable pool filter.  Chlorine tablets disinfect.  This video shows the process.

The 66 gallon unit in the photo is designed for households with up to six people.  It is about 2 ft in diameter and 5 feet tall and costs $2,400 plus 8-10 hours of installation.  The electricity cost to run the system is about $21 per year.  Brac makes a smaller RGW-150 39 gallon unit suitable for households with up to two people and slab models which are set into the foundation in homes without basements.  Brac also sells rainwater harvesters.  Go to the Brac website or call Mr. Wegner for details.

Good luck with your green endeavors!



Village Plumbing Co.

Wauwatosa, Wisconsin

Richard Wegner

Email: RWegner50@gmail.com

Tel: (414) 257-0466


Wisconsin Department of Commerce,

Safety and Buildings Division, Plumbing Program


Lynita Docken, S&B Plumbing Program Manager,

Email: ldocken@commerce.state.wi.us

Tel: 608-785-9349

The Greywater Action Group: http://greywateraction.org/


Entry filed under: conservation, consumption, other, sustainability, tips, waste, water.

The best things really do come in small packages Packing Peanuts Got You Down?

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jerry McIntire  |  February 3, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    I encourage readers to check out greywateraction.org There, simple systems can be found which cost less and do not require any electricity use, nor chlorine for disinfection. Plants can clean greywater just fine. Permaculture books and websites offer greywater system designs as well. I helped install one in central Portland, Oregon. I look forward to doing the same in our SW Wisconsin home.

  • 2. Jerry McIntire  |  March 25, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    An update. First of all, any greywater or blackwater system falls under the state’s plumbing code, which specifies that the system must be designed by a master plumber and installed according to that approved design.

    And yes, that includes blackwater systems. Since 2009 blackwater systems have been allowed in Wisconsin. These would be expensive, but there are NSF certified composting toilets that are also allowed in Wisconsin.

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