IT IS FINALLY HAPPENING. After dreaming of a gray water system for years, we installed the purple pipes at Shane's watermelon house today. Why do we put off small sustainability projects when THEY ARE SO SATISFYING TO FINISH?
Last month Shane and I took the free Laundry to Landscape class at Urban Farmer, taught by the delightful and brilliant Kat Sawyer. (check out that post.) She even came to our homes to give us personal gray water consultations.
Armed with her knowledge and the starter supplies from Urban Farmer L2L class, we measured, glued and drilled our way to a smokin' hot gray water system. Once you get a taste for diverting water away from the sewer, you don't want to stop. Now Shane's orange, apple and fig trees will be able to bare plump, juice fruit in the middle of this dusty drought.
I posted on FB plans to attend the Laundry to Landscape class and 2 friends joined me! No time like the present to save water. After completing the L2L class at Urban Farmer you qualify for a $125 rebate towards a $175 L2L starter kit. (larger gardens might need to buy more supplies like pipe.) Also, Kat, the instructor will come to your house for a graywater evaluation!
In Southern California, there has been success with a similar program, and the biggest positive feedback from users is that they can now have fruit trees.
L2L is a great option for grey water because you do not need a permit. (a permit is needed if you cut into plumbing and there is also a $225 rebate for plumbing permit)
The class booklet, available online, was based on the book “The Wise Water Home” written by the Gray Water Gorillas.
The basic idea is that you install a 3 way valve onto the output of your washing machine and connect it to pipes that lead to the trees or bushes in your garden. At each emitter point, a small sink of wood chips is set up to help with drainage and catch the debri. If you have a flat yard, your washing machine can pump up to 50 feet.
Kat, Shane and I pumped up for some gray water action.
Bury the purple lines so that kids won’t drink. L2L works best for fruit trees. Tomatoes ok but not root veggies or lettuce.
Most areas of the city are great for L2L but 30th and Church is on a shallow water area.
You cannot use powder laundry detergent only liquid. Oxi Clean ok.
Check the washing machine pump – clean it out. A bit of a hassle but doable.
Set up has anti- siphon valve. Best to install outside the house to not confuse the inspector. Also best if it floods then it will be outside.
L2L is not best for lawns because that set up needs more expensive hardware.
Check mulch once a year for roots, hair, etc. Discharge is skin, lint, hair, and the mulch catches it.
SFPUC customers pay for wastewater, estimated amount is set at 90% of initial water usage. Homes with large gardens connected to greywater can contest this amount but for our small gardens in SF it is unlikely that we can lower this charge.
The next week Kat came to my house for a design consultation. She was super interesting to talk to and runs Groundswell Rainscapes and Tap the Sky.
She also promotes the Water Shed Project and works with SFUSD to install rainwater systems SF public schools - over 20 so far. SFUSD is a large landowner and the SFPUC encourages them to make water conservation efforts.
I can’t wait to chat with the principal at our school to see if we can cut a garden into the asphalt.
(SFUSD wants a core sample of blacktop to see if there is lead or asbestos in the asphalt or in the covered soil. The individual school has to pay for it, but there are grants to pay for the rest of the work.) Kat even offered to come to our school!
Tips for our house:
Lemon tree might not be getting enough water think about extending the hose or adding another bamboo pipe Add bench around the lemon tree would look nice.
Bamboo, it was recommended to varnish the bamboo but she suggests like a linseed oil treatment instead. Her final recommendation is that our yard is too small for laundry to landscape. Better to get front loading washer and drop water usage down from 40 gallons to 20 gallons a load. Plus there is a $150 rebate for the new washing machine.
I wonder if I set up a L2L system I could water my garden PLUS three of my neighbors gardens…..
Jack, a SFPUC technician came to our house for a Water-Wise Evaluation. You get lots of free stuff, shower heads, faucet aerators, hose nozzles, toilet flaps….. Plus a detailed inspection of your water usage. I did pick up most of these things for free at the SFPUC main office, but you can only get the hose nozzle from a home visit.)
The SFPUC is asking customers to cut down water use by 10%, based on a baseline set on your use in 2013. He also let me know in his experience the most common household leaks are toilets, 75% of the time, then irrigation (PVC pipes leaks), then underground leaks in water pipes. Also, always run full loads in dishwasher and washing machine.
Here is what he found:
Bathroom Sink upstairs - Currently at 1.5 gallons per minute aerator (I bought online years ago)
He offered me a lower aerators to try, .5 or 1 gallon per minute.
Shower upstairs has a showerhead of 1.5 gallons per min. Two gallons per min is the average shower head. I do not need to change this as SFPUC gives out same level showerhead.
Upstairs toilet uses 1.6 gallons per flush. (High efficiency toilets use close to 1 gallon)
Jack showed me how I can easily lower the tank water level to one inch from the top of the tube in the tank, saving me 1/5 gallon per flush. It was a simple squeeze and lower of a metal tab. He also checked by toilet for leaks with a blue dye. (Jack mentioned that sometimes, even if toilet passes a blue dye test, there can still be a leak so it is important to listen for sounds of running water.)
Bathtub holds 50 gallons! Perfect place for us to harvest grey water.
Dishwasher, Kitchenaid uses 5 gallons of water a load. Jack says always run full load! It would be interesting to see how many gallons of water we would use to wash the same load. Growing up in the desert we never let the faucet run while washing dishes but all my East Coast people just let that faucet run the entire time!
I picked up our kitchen sink faucet aerator from the SFPUC, rated at 1.5 gallons per min. Jack had a lower one but without the swivel and flow adjust feature (which I thought was just for on and off after the temp had been adjusted.) So we are not going to go switch it out.
Ancient top loading washing machine uses around 40-50 gallons a load. We do 4 loads a week! SFPUC offers a $150 rebate for a new front loading machine what will drop water use down to 30 to 15 gallons per load. Since our yard is too small, we are not a great candidate for Laundry to Landscape grey water system. So the best bet for us is to just replace the washing machine.
Downstairs showerhead’s water rate was not clearly marked so Jack took a reading with a fancy plastic bag. Fill bag for for 5 seconds, take 3 tests and then average….our shower head is 1 .2 gallons per minute. He also mentioned that rate can be lower than what the device states due to blockage in the pipe or holes.
Really old toilet downstairs uses 3.5 gallons per flush! No! Definitely need to get the SFPUC rebate $125 per toilet. Jack did show me how to lower the tank level an inch by lowering the bulb (you can spin some screws and if that doesn’t work just bend the metal bar to the bulb.)
Jack notes, if moisture came me found around the toilet base then there could be a crack in the waxing - leaking black water! And damaging the floor. It might not smell. Can be caused from standing on the toilet. Yikes!
Garden, average hose flow is 15 gallons per minute, so best to use a nozzle.
Jack’s Final Recommendations:
Change old toilet downstairs that uses a whopping 3.5 gallons! Rebate!
Replace top loading washing machine. Rebate!
Set the drip for every other day.
Install lower aerators on sinks.
Lower tank water levels.
If we make all these changes,we could lower our useage to 1 to 2 units and then we can lower our monthly bill by $200-400 a year.
I did find it confusing that Jack and the water bill measure water in units of cubic feet. There are 7.48 gallons in 1 cubic foot. Or 1 Unit = 1 Ccf of water = 748 gallons. Easy right? Not!
Why not keep measurements/bills in gallons? All customers, including renters should have access to their water usage. And heck, why not make all bills public?
Near Future water saving plans.
Check out this amazing greywater sink you can install over your toilet. I am putting this on my wish list. My daughter's preschool had a toilet that was designed to this but I didn't realize that you could get this attachment to transform and toilet your into a grey water super hero. Sink Positive makes them for about $120
For one glorious day two moms left their kids at Camp Mather in Yosemite and hit the trail to finally witness the majestic waters of Hetch Hetchy. Little did we know that our minds would soon be blown by the powerful Wapuma Water falls crashing over the trail. On the hike Leah and I admired the view, the peace and all the amazing wild flowers and told stories of our moms introducing us to nature. It was then we discovered that both our moms had both died 15 years ago and it became clear that we would dedicate this hike to the moms we lost to soon and what a better way to do it then to gather small bouquets to toss into the headwaters of the Hetch Hetchy.
As we rounded the last bend, Wapuma Falls rose up above us and crashed spectacularly across the wooded bridges.
We love our 50 gallon bath tub, but sad it uses so much water. We don't use it that often but sometimes my elementary school age son wakes up at 6AM and pulls himself a hot bath. Our irregular bath habit was sending A LOT of water to the sewer, while our lemon tree was looking thirsty in the garden.
I stopped in at The Urban farmer to see what siphons and pumps they might recommend for a gray water set up. I walked out of there with a SiphonAid, male/make hose adaptor, a 25' hose, and some great design ideas from the staff. First we tried to run the hose out the bathroom window and off the balcony on the SAME floor as the bathroom.... but the water output was a disappointing trickle.
I needed something more dramatic.
So I set up a siphon hose to run the water out the window and down a story to the garden resulting in a an impressive flow of water. (Please remember this set up is not to code as it is not advised to have gray water available where kids could touch or drink. Proper set ups have the gray water drain into covered mulch basins. ) A cool feature is that we can hang the hose outside the window when not in use.
It was a sunny bright day in San Francisco the perfect day to forage for the bamboo need to make our kitchen gray water "art" fountain. I have long dreamed of a Swiss Family Robinson style gutter starting at our kitchen window and shooting off the deck. A runway to dump out the clean water that usually gets wasted down our kitchen drain.... half filled water glasses, sippy cups or water from washing veggies.
The French daughter of my dear friend was my partner in crime. When I pulled in front of the bamboo patch she realize we were not going to buy the bamboo. Now I thought long and hard about buying the bamboo from the hardware shore in Japantown but clearly the locally sourced (and free) was the more sustainable choice. We chose the thickest bamboo shoot which cut like butter with the saw. In just moments we had that thing in the car before anyone had time to ask any questions.
Next was figuring out how to split the bamboo, the internet had lots of ideas but I turned to the wisdom of my bamboo master farmer Greg Jones who operates a his own Bamboo farm in Kauai. His reply, "A hatchet and a hammer will work better, mama. Bang out the diaphragms with a hammer, then knife down the roughs."
It worked like a god damn charm.
So check it out, here is our amazing "art" gray water fountain, designed to inspire kids and adults to think about our clean water. One of the delightful and unexpected features of the fountain is that you need to pour the water slowly to not overwhelm the gutter. This fact necessitates that the user must take a moment of stillness to avoid spilling... a calm, quiet moment and if the house is quite you can hear the water rushing down the bamboo like a creek. Magical.
Amanda Smith from the SF Department of Health came to our house and took 5 dust samples. The floor at the front door, the kitchen floor, the floor off the back porch, downstairs hallway and the windowsill in the kids play area. All samples came back non detectable except the windowsill at a level of 80 µg/ft² (micograms per square foot). The legal limit for interior window sills is 250 µg/ft². That old window is painted shut with very old paint (like most of the windows in my house). Amanda thinks that dust is probably seeping in through the cracks.
It was a very dusty windowsill so I plan to clean those with a wet rage more often.
The lead test for our water also came back with low levels. Sue Soteriou from the SFPUC returned my call and suggested that I do a second test this time after flushing out the pipes. The water from the street level is usually colder than the water sitting in your pipes overnight, so simply feeling the water for about a minute until the temperature drops will let you know your pipes are flushed out. She also mentioned that if you want to test the fixture, then only fill the liter bottle half way. Our pipes are copper and she reminded me that lead contamination can come from the solder used on copper pipes.
The SFPUC offers low-cost water tests for lead ($25 per tap). To request a test, call 877-737-8297.
Here are the results from the water lead test we did in 2008 after my son's exposure. I was told that the levels where fine because they are lower than the EPA's action level of 15PPB. Knowing what I know now, I do not think these numbers are acceptable and I wished I had applied myself to making changes.
School auction season is here again and we are busy upcycling old teeshirts into bags. Theo's third grade class collaborated and drew up a new silkscreen design of the water cycle including a call for water conservation.
The design for Niko's Kindergarten class is a collection of her classmates' self portraits around the school mascot.
We printed on teeshirts donated by the students and from Chloe's Closet. The students where impressed at the transformation of unwanted clothes into reusable objects.
And yes, I fed this cereal to my family. The box was factory sealed and my kids love corn flakes. Heck, isn't foraged as good as organic? My poor husband was mortified. The shirt was also a street find while walking to the gym with friends. Initially, I picked it up as a joke to tease my friends about my dumpster diving but very quickly it has become one of my favorite shirts. ( I just had to wash of the tire tracks) Having fun and doing my part for landfill diversion.
Raised a feral hippy child in New Mexico, this dumpster diving compost lover wants to help green your home.