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 $120
We love our 50 gallon bath tub, but sad it uses so much water. We don't use it that often but sometimes my elementary school age son wakes up at 6AM and pulls himself a hot bath. Our irregular bath habit was sending A LOT of water to the sewer, while our lemon tree was looking thirsty in the garden.
I stopped in at The Urban farmer to see what siphons and pumps they might recommend for a gray water set up. I walked out of there with a SiphonAid, male/make hose adaptor, a 25' hose, and some great design ideas from the staff. First we tried to run the hose out the bathroom window and off the balcony on the SAME floor as the bathroom.... but the water output was a disappointing trickle.
I needed something more dramatic.
So I set up a siphon hose to run the water out the window and down a story to the garden resulting in a an impressive flow of water. (Please remember this set up is not to code as it is not advised to have gray water available where kids could touch or drink. Proper set ups have the gray water drain into covered mulch basins. ) A cool feature is that we can hang the hose outside the window when not in use.
Can't believe it took me this long, but I finally installed CFL bulbs around the house and dimmable CFL in Theo's room. I guess I was waiting for the old bulbs to blow.
The new shower head is very satisfying. Bobby is thrilled because the old one pointed too low and he had to squat a bit to wash his hair. I nearly threw up when I removed the old one- the nozzles were covered in black gunk! I found the 1.5 GPM "roadrunner showerhead" at eartheasy.com. 39.99$ That's also where I also ordered low flow aerators for all our faucets. The dual setting swivel aerator for the kitchen rocks - adding some functionality to our old school wall mounted faucet. 6$
We also replaced the old flexible ducts on the dryer (thanks Paul da Plumber). Drying time nearly cut by a third!
Raised a feral hippy child in New Mexico, this dumpster diving compost lover wants to help green your home.