Rain water heading for the sewers
Water is a very scarce commodity, municipalities know this and charge an arm and a leg to supply clean drinking water.
When we bath we use approximately 100 litres of water per person and about 80 litres for the average shower. Washing machines, dishwashers, flushing toilets and handbasins account for a few 100 litres more per day all of which goes straight down the sewer and is lost to us.
To make matters worse we are charged for the use of the sewer at a rate based on 70% of the water we buy from the municipality. The more water we use the higher our sewer costs are. The "used" water is returned to the municpality who recycle it and sell it back to us again.
Surely we can find a better way to use all this "used" water and cut our water bills and sewer costs.
So how do we reduce our mains water usage and cut municipal water bills at the same time.
There are two easy ways to do this.
Collect rainwater and use the grey or used water we produce to water our gardens.
If you want to collect rainwater your home should have gutters which will direct water running off your roof into gutter pipes which can then be channelled into water tanks.
These tanks can be hidden anywhere in your garden and as long as the gutters are higher than the top of the water tank you will be able to pipe the water from the gutters into the tanks even if your pipes run underground before entering the top of the tank.
I hear you asking! "How can water run up hill if its not being pumped?" Thats easy, the underground pipes will act as a siphon and pull the water up the pipe and into the tank as long as the top of the tank is lower than height of the gutter.
The same principal as siphoning petrol out of your car works here.
Once in the tanks water can be pumped into your home's water system and be used for baths, showers and toilets or filling swimming pools thus reducing the need for mains water.
Grey Water Installation Diagram
Grey water is dirty water from your bath, shower, dishwasher, washing machine, kitchen sink and it can be utilised to water your gardens.
Using grey water is a bit more complicated than just pumping it straight onto your lawns as the phosphates in the soaps and detergents in the water will eventually poison your soil and kill your plants.
What do you have to do to be able to use grey water?
Firstly, grey water has to be sorted so that water containing harsh chemicals and abrasives does not end up on your garden but goes down the sewer as it should.
Only water from baths, showers, handbasins and washing machines can be used on your garden, water from all other sources must be sent down the sewer.
Water from your kitchen sink and dishwasher contain harsh detergents of an abrasive nature which should go into the sewer and not your garden.
Photograph of a grey water installation
Water from your washing machine can be utilised but you will need to make a couple of changes to the way you do your washing. Certain detergents and washing aids such as fabric softeners and sodium hypochlorite (JIK) can no longer be used as they are as abrasive as the detergents you use for your dishes. Washing powders should be phosphate free as phosphates will eventually build up in your soil and kill your plants.
The next step is to collect the grey water by piping the water from the outlets of the house to a central tank where the water is run through a basket filter which collects all the bits of fluff etc before the water runs
into the tank. Once there is about 40 litres of water in the tank it should be pumped out into the garden.
Of course the whole system should be automated and your pump should switch on when the water level in the grey water bin reaches a pre set level. When the tank is empty the pump should again switch off automatically.
One of the rules of using grey water is that it should NEVER be stored. Most grey water is warm when it leaves the home and has a food value for anaerobic bacteria which breed and produce methane and hydrogen sulphide. You have all smelled “stink bombs” and you don't want you garden smelling like that.
To use the grey water you need a low pressure pump that is strong enough to supply two sprinklers at a time and give a spray of about six meters in diameter each. A high pressure pump will cause the sprinklers to form a mist which will result in the bacteria in the water being spread about by the wind instead of landing on the ground in water particles and being absorbed.
Grey water should not be run onto the ground and left to dam up in a hollow as the bacteria in the water will soon clog up your soil.
Grey water is dirty water and must not be fed into any high pressure irrigation system that forms a mist when delivering the water to the garden. Grey water clogs up micro jets and will eventually be the demise of your sprinkler system. The rule is to only use clean water for irrigation systems.
Another use for grey water is to use it to flush your toilets. I catch my grey water in three 100 litre plastic drums which I have sunk into the ground as per the picture. On a daily basis I fill my 5 litre buckets which I keep in the bathroom for flushing the toilets. Before filling the buckets I put 3 squirts of a JIK and water (50/50) solution into each bucket. This mixes with the grey water and stops any smells.This water can only be used in the toilets.
Before setting up your own grey water system it is advisable to do your own research to find out what will work best for your situation, There are many ways to save water and reduce your water bills. This is just one of them!
With the drought being experienced in many parts of South Africa every household has to save water. Hardware stores stock everything you need to connect your outlet pipes to your storage drums. Anybody can set up a system as it is dead simple.
Start saving water today!