by Dixie Somers
Off-the-grid living has become a trend among individuals who find the unending demands of modern life unfulfilling and inefficient. These individuals have chosen to create households that don’t require connection to normal community utilities and systems. Developing an independent home system involves a learning curve in regard to energy systems, water delivery and waste removal and treatment. One way to conserve resources is to reuse greywater. Below is some essential information on using the greywater that an off the grid home normally generates as part of everyday living.
Greywater can be thought of as the gently used water left from primary water use, such as bathing, washing dishes, or laundry activities. The average person generates about 40 gallons of greywater per day. This water generally contains some contaminants, such as dirt, hair oil, grease, food particles or cleaning chemicals, but these contaminants are sufficiently negligible to allow the water to be used for other types of activities where potable water is not necessary.
Greywater is different from wastewater from the toilet, which is called “blackwater” and is not used for other purposes due to its toxicity. Greywater use is essentially using minimally contaminated water a second time, for operations where entirely pure water is not needed. Many communities allow the use of greywater for specific types of activities that are considered safe for this type of water. It can help to conserve water in areas of limited water resources.
Safe Use of Greywater
A number of intensive studies have found that greywater can be safely used for such purposes as irrigation of lawns and plants and cleaning of outdoor equipment. Most plants do fine with greywater, though tougher, drought-tolerant plants like rosemary, lavender, and petunias will work best when watered with it. If you regularly water plants with greywater, it’s best to occasionally flush them with rainwater or tap water to wash residue off.
Greywater can also be used for flushing toilets inside the home. The easiest way to do this is with the bucket method—simply dumping the greywater directly into the toilet to flush it. However, you can also install a system that combines a sink with the toilet, so that you can wash your hands (turning the water into greywater) that goes directly into the toilet and helps it flush.
Other uses, such as heat reclamation, are being developed that will be another use for greywater that will increase efficiency in off the grid homes: basically, greywater that is still hot, such as used bathwater, can have its heat recovered and reused as energy in the home before it goes down the drain. These systems may be expensive, but they can be up to 60% efficient, which can be especially useful in an off-grid home.
Wastewater Treatment Systems
The secondary use of greywater requires careful separation of household waste systems into blackwater and greywater treatment. The greywater from sinks, dishwashers and washing machines can be processed through a system like Econocycle and sent to a tank for settling, clarification and aeration. Water used from the system is generally utilized as a drip or flood system, not by spraying, which would be more likely to spread contamination. Blackwater is sent to a separate tank for composting. An emergency discharge mechanism into the septic tank or sewer system is generally required in case the greywater system fails. These systems must be carefully monitored to ensure efficient and safe operation.
Living off the grid creates a number of challenges that must be managed for successful everyday operation. It requires learning new ways of finding, developing and using resources. However, once these new operations are mastered, they become an ordinary part of your day-to-day routine. Knowledgeable use of greywater adds to the efficiency of your independent home system, and can help you save both water and energy over time. Keep these tips in mind as you plan ways that you can reuse your water for the benefit of your household.
Dixie Somers is a freelance writer and blogger for business, home, and family niches. Dixie lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and is the proud mother of three beautiful girls and wife to a wonderful husband.