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An Unnatural Fear of Gray Water Systems  RSS feed

 
gardener
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Location: Soutwest Ohio
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That is to say, I don't fear gray water, but rather that I am highly intimidated by the idea of constructing a gray water system. Why? I have no idea. It certainly isn't the hardest thing I have ever thought to dig into. I can't really put a finger on why the thought of working on one gets to me. The closest thing I've ever had to dealing with one was that the washing machine at my Grandparent's farm would let out onto the side of a gravel road down by where they kept the chickens. It was foul and would suddenly let out when you least expected it, but I can't say I ever really associated it with the concept of a gray water system.

I've toyed with the idea of gray water systems more than once. I've even made a post in the past asking a few things. Still, every time I look at the idea beyond the abstract, I find myself balking. Subconsciously turning my attention to other projects rather than digging deeper than the surface. It's something I should learn in detail. I've prided myself on the level of thought and research I put into every project, so why is this one so intimidating for me? I don't have the answers.

Does anyone else feel this way? If you've worked past it, what was the key? I'd like to think that once I get past the initial reflex, I will find it all just falls into place in my mind easily. Still, I wonder what about it makes it so difficult to contend with to begin with. Anyone's thoughts or insights are welcome. I'd especially like to hear first-hand accounts of similar difficulties and overcoming them.
 
gardener
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It sounds like some part of soapy water has a repulsive factor to your mind.
Not really unusual since most folks relate that to sewage water.
On boats, there are three water holding tanks, Fresh water, gray water and Black water. The same is true of all self contained recreational vehicles.
Gray water really isn't as nasty as many folks think it is. Gray water has been used to clean something like dishes or clothes or shower/bath.
It is relatively easy to clean up, especially if you are using biodegradable soap products with no phosphates, you just need a filter bed.
There are many malls that now have their water features using gray water, usually these have the treatment space as part of the water feature, most of them are so well done, shoppers don't even realize they are looking at a water treatment setup.

I've done gray water treatment, our first home on Buzzard's Roost was an 18 foot Travel Trailer, the gray water was diverted to a series of cleaning pond, reed bed, fungi bed  then to the gardens.
It isn't hard to set up, pretty much is maintenance free once it is running well and you can have it terminate in a pond to grow fish, should you want to do that.

Just separate your thinking about sewage water, like a ship or RV owner would.
Black water is sewer water, kept to the septic system or into the city sewer system.
Gray water is reclaimable by any home owner and it keeps your water bill lower as well as being the earth responsible thing to do.

Redhawk
 
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Location: South East Missouri
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I get what you are saying.  I have spent an inordinate amount of time working on my Grey water system, which is completely contained in the cellar.  I had no idea when I got started how much time and attention to detail would be required.  However, now that the system is 95% completed, I still would encourage you to jump right in.  There is a solution to be found for every problem, and there is pleasure in the challenge for someone who is willing to search for  the answers. (Perhaps I am not your average tinkerer.  Maybe I am OCARD, and enjoy getting sucked into the details!)  Here are some of my issues:

1.  I have full access to the plumbing piping runs and installed manual ball valves into the drain line for every sink, tub, and washer.
    a.  2 baths, a kitchen, and a laundry room means that it took ten 1.5 inch ball valves.  A lot of sawing and gluing!
    b.  I marked each valve with a permanent marker to clearly show if it flows to Grey water tank or Septic tank.
    c.  I plan to live here for the rest of my life (hopefully 30 years - I am 62) so I don't care if a potential home buyer might be intimidated.

2.  I originally stored the grey water in a 550 gallon unvented tank system.  Real stink problem!
    a.  Eventually I ran a 2 inch vent line up to the roof, under an overhang.
    b.  Before long I discovered that the low spot in the vent line had been filled with water, thus blocking the vent.
    c.  I then installed a 180-degree hook at the top of the pipe (two 90-degree elbows) to shed rain water.
    d.  Installed a p-trap with clean-out port to allow for easy drainage just in case.
    e.  I installed an in-line fan to force the ventilation - but I have never needed to turn on the fan.  Wasted about $30!
    f.  Stink problem totally solved after a month of tinkering.  A good design and the entire debacle would have been avoided.

3.  Another contributor to a separate forum (  https://permies.com/t/64963/Backup-watering-system#630200 ) pointed out that it is a bad idea to store greywater.
    a.  I had already read Art Ludwig's book (Create an Oasis with Grey Water ISBN-13: 978-0964343399) so I was familiar with the issue.
    b.  I added a smaller surge tank so that the water would drain directly outside with no storage.
    c.  I then added a 3-tier overflow system just in case the discharge line freezes at the cellar's foundation wall.
    d.  The Surge Tank overflows to the 550 gal storage tank.  The storage tank overflows to the cellar's floor drain and on to the septic tank.
    e.  Before the next winter I will add electric heat tape to the pipe, outside the foundation wall (under a deck) to prevent freezing.

4.  Now the 550-gallon storage tank is always empty and available for use as a rainwater storage tank.
    a.  I have installed a motor-operated valve that allows me to flood the discharge pipe with rainwater when needed or desired.
    b.  I have purchased rain-water barrels, but have yet to hook them up.
    c.  I had new gutters and downspouts installed.  Leaf guards keep the rainwater clean, and free of debris.
    d.  An old concrete cistern exists in the cellar (86 year old farm house) that will hold 3000 gallons.
    e.  I have yet to sweep out the cistern or to pipe the rain barrels into it.
    f.  I am not sure if the cistern will leak.  I may need to waterproof it on the inside.  It it even worth it?
    g.  IBC bladder totes at corners under the new part of the house (25 years old) will add 1200 gallons of storage.

5.  I have installed a pump for pushing out to irrigation sprinklers.
    a.  The pump will take a suction on the storage tank.
    b.  I have installed another motor operated valve between the tank and the suction side of the pump.
    c.  The pump discharges to irrigation sprinklers.
    d.  I added a solenoid valve that allows me to pressurize the irrigation sprinklers with well water.

6.  The system discharges to a new Hugelkultur mound.
    a.  The greywater floods a pool that is under the Hugel mound.
    b.  The pressurized rainwater / well water flows to a sprinkler mounted 6 foot above the Hugel mound.
    c.  A series of Hugel mounds (4 or 5) down a hill towards the pond are planned.
    d.  One Hugel mound will overflow to the next lower Hugel mound and eventually will trickle into the pond.

I have attached a picture.

Now I am worried about the ill effects of growing vegetables in the Hugel mound in soil that is 16 inches above the grey water pool.

GrayWaterSysstem.jpg
[Thumbnail for GrayWaterSysstem.jpg]
 
pollinator
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Location: Southern Oregon
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Wow, that's complicated. I have a garbage can that I put the laundry drain hose into (instead of the standpipe). The garbage can has a hose attached at the bottom with a spigot. I move the hose with every wash cycle, watering fruit trees. Pour out the little left in the bottom. Periodically, everything gets washed out, the hose attached to pressured water, etc. Works great.
 
master steward
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Phillip has worked out a great system for his needs.

The way we started doing gray water was when we would have had to hire a plumber to connect the washer drain to the household plumbing.

So we did a french drain for the washer.

It can be as simple as Stacy's or more complex like Cities are requiring approval for systems.

To me, gray water is nothing more than what I put my hands is to wash dishes or clothes.
 
Stacy Witscher
pollinator
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Yeah, mine's totally not legal. But it also doesn't do any permanent alterations, so I can just remove the garbage can with the hose and no one's the wiser.

I haven't decided what I want to do when we move. We will see.
 
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I can totally feel with Logan. When a freind asked me, to help him install watersystems for his kitchen and bathroom I got excited to do it. Though after doing some ressearch I noticed how complicated it is to deal with greywater and that sometimes there is no clear distinction between grey & black water. For examplesomeone wrote that the skin particles from our showers can promote the development of pathogens. So my fear of greywater is related to the pathogens it may develop. I guess its mostly a lack of knowledge about the chemicals cycles occuring during the decomposition of greywater.
 
Phillip Stuckemeyer
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Logan's contribution was very helpful indeed!  I actually changed my plan for Grey Water storage.  Now all of the Grey Water goes directly to the planting beds.  There is no storage for more than a few minutes while the small (35-gal) tank gravity drains!  However, the big tank is still currently available should the small (continuously draining) tank back up or overflow, which has never happened yet.  I suspect that this will become an issue during the next winter freeze, although we do have a somewhat moderate climate here in Southern Missouri.

I have recently been working on my Rainwater collection and storage system, which features a large cistern (not as large as I previously thought - just calculated volume at 187.5 cu ft = 1400-gal), three 55-gal barrels, and four 275-gallon tanks.  The 550-gal tank that serves the Grey Water will also be piped into the Rainwater system during the warm months, but I think I will drain it during the winter so that it is exclusively available for Grey Water overflow/backup storage.  If the 550 gal tank fills up, it automatically overflows to the septic system.  Need to ensure I am not flooding my cellar with stinky grey water!

I want to be sure that there is no cross-contamination between the Grey Water and Rain Water systems.  Need to think about that.

Furthermore, the rain water will not be used for drinking.  This is all for irrigation.  On the other hand, I have requested a quote to add battery storage to my solar PV system, and in the event of a major grid outage I will be able to power the well pump, and if the well pump fails I will always be able to use the rain water.  Will need some filtration in that case, as well as boiling.

Safety First!
 
Posts: 626
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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Are you guys thinking that your grey water is full of crazy chemicals?  Or full of crazy weird stuff?  We're not talking about black water, right?   We have absolute control of our grey water, considering it is mostly soapy water.   We just got through rubbing our bodies with that soap, cleaning our dishes with that soap, and cleaning our floors and windows with that soap.  It was great stuff at that point.  The types of soaps we use are all up to us.  

There are very simple, easy, safe, biodegradable soaps available.  And those soaps break down into plain and simple chemicals.   And those chemicals are not uranium or mercury.  Soaps are alkaline in the big catgory, so we all know what to do if our plants have soil that's too alkaline.

I just don't understand storing grey water, because the landscape plants can use it quickly in the summer,, the soil critters can work on it and clean it up the rest of the time.

 
 
master pollinator
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Stored greywater becomes blackwater very quickly, which is why Art Ludwig recommends avoiding any storage of it.  http://oasisdesign.net/greywater/misinfo/

 
Cristo Balete
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As long as we're on the subject of what's going on with our basic natural world, here's a book I tried to read long ago, and got to about page 10 before I had to put it down.  I consider myself a pretty stoic person, not much perturbs me, but this one just made me cringe.   For instance, the air around you changes when you take your pants off with floating dead skin that floats for days.   Grey water is only a tip of the iceberg.  And if it's any consolation, if things weren't the way this book describes them, humans probably wouldn't even be here.

The Secret House, The Extraordinary Science of an Ordinary Day

http://www.davidbodanis.com/books/the-secret-house/
 
Phillip Stuckemeyer
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Cristo,

Do you have any specific recommendations for bio-degradable earth friendly soaps and detergents?  How about bleaching agents?  My wife has been buying Seventh Generation natural dish liquid which is non-toxic and a USDA Certified Biobased Product (whatever that means) as well as plant-based according to the label.  She is also using ECOS Laundry detergent, which is labeled as Plant-Derived, and Earth Friendly.  Again, I am not sure what that all really means, and I do not have an independent testing laboratory at my disposal.  These are easy to find at the local Walmart.  (I share this fact in full awareness that someone out there is likely to brand me as an evil person for shopping at Wally World... but I live in the country.  I have to drive 27 miles to get to a Starbucks, and almost 50 miles to get to a Whole Foods Market!  Furthermore, ordering online is not the clear answer since it can be argued that Amazon ships in trucks that are powered by the wrong kind of fuel, so I can't win in a debate about personal responsibility and social justice when the conversation has been declared to be over - the matter is supposedly settled!)

Art Ludwig of Oasis Design fame used to offer a preferred detergent line, but he sold that off and it is now very expensive and hard to find.  Oasis Biocompatible Laundry Liquid, as the name goes, and once again I am not a chemist and I am not really sure that it is worth the cost and the trouble.  Can only be found online.

Your insights would be appreciated.
 
Stacy Witscher
pollinator
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Location: Southern Oregon
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Phillip - I haven't noticed a change in the price of the Oasis products. It's always been kind of pricey, but worth it, in my opinion. I'm happy that it is finally available from Amazon. I used to have to drive to Berkeley to get it, about 30 minutes away. I used ECOS for a while, but starting seeing a lot of problems with my fruit trees, nutrient deficiencies, browning leaves etc. And my clothes weren't getting clean, although this could possibly be our new washer, it's terrible.

So back to Oasis laundry detergent and Oasis dish soap. I also use the dish soap as a component of my homemade cleaning products. I use it instead of castile soap, which tends to leave a film. I do use castile soap for my hair with a mild vinegar rinse, and bar soap (real soap) for my body.
 
Cristo Balete
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Phillip,  several years ago I looked up what in legal terms "biodegradable" means, and it's tragically deficient.  They are really getting away with murder when they use this term, so the more simple we get with the products, so we know what's in them, the better it will be.  

I think it's safe to say, NEVER use something labeled Detergent.  That's the stuff the environment gets ruined by.  Don't use anything with Laureth Sulfate in it, that's a sudsing agent that is purely psychological. It tends to be in shampoo.   We have been taught to think that "soap" involves suds.  It doesn't.   We're not supposed to use deoderant soap, but I have to admit, sometimes in the summer when things get buggy and sticky it can be a relief.

We use 50/50 Washing Soda and 10 Mule Team Borax to wash clothing with.  It doesn't make suds, so don't panic about that.  It works anyway, and soaking a load for 15 minutes before washing helps, too. Washing soda may not be easy to find, but it can be at the upscale groceries stores, but it's not expensive, even there.  It's kind of old school, so I think it's losing favor.  It hardens up like a rock if you keep it in the cardboard box it comes in if you have moisture in the air -- which will happen in the winter anyway -- so we transfer it to jars with lids to keep the moisture away.  

We don't wear clothing or socks/underwear for more than one sweaty day.  If we're outside working, mowing, or there's a lot of pollen in the air etc., the clothing gets washed right away so they don't have too much for the mixture to work on, and the little biting bugs that can be around don't come back and bite us if we were to put unwashed work clothing on.  

Dr. Bronner's liquid castille soap is the pure stuff.  The label is covered with descriptions about it.  It's scented, if you like that kind of thing.  The peppermint is nice.

https://www.drbronner.com/

Considering the soapy water that goes into my reed beds, I am continually impressed with how they don't seem to mind all that alkaline water.  I've mixed 50/50 3/4" gravel with wood chips for what the water goes into, so maybe the wood chips are helping with the acidity somewhat.   Even the other pond plants I've tucked in there are doing just fine.  
 
Cristo Balete
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Using the washing soda/borax mix with a washing machine, in the soaking mode let the washer fill and aggitate a little to mix the two powders, then put your clothing in to soak.   It seems more effective to get the powders dissolved and mixed, because they don't have the dissolving agents in them that the commercial soaps have, and that takes maybe a minute.

Otherwise if they go in through the soap compartment straight to washing, it probably would be better to have a longer aggitation period so the powders have time to dissolve and mix.
 
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For what it is worth, I wish i had  not processed the greywater.   I built gravity greywater system, baffles for grease/soap, anaerobic tank, baffles, then constructed wetlands, storeage tank.  Lot of cost and work and storeing makes me lazy and it accumulates.  mine has no smell by that time.  
 
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