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Water and Wastewater Management in the Home

Plants like water that has been used before more than they like drinking water - as long as it's not toxic.

Plants like water that has been used before more than they like drinking water - as long as it's not toxic.

Water is a Precious Resource

In the Western world, governments require water providers to test the quality of water they supply several times a day so that all water going to its customers is of drinking quality. We customers then use this high-quality water to wash dishes, clothes, floors, and flush the toilet. We use it to water gardens and lawns and wash down driveways and sidewalks. In a land where water is abundant, that might be okay, but what about in a land where water is scarce?

Water Demand and Waste

Most of the water production in and around cities goes to private residences, who very often waste it. In areas where water is scarce, like Australia and the American Southwest, it comes from utility companies rather than wells, as water companies have become overloaded with demand. They are running out of water to supply at the same time that populations are growing.

Building new supply sources costs billions of dollars that most governments don't have now. Rather than doing more building, it makes better sense to decrease the demand of users by encouraging them to use water more efficiently.

Save Water by Recycling

Residential customers can help by installing new technologies manufacturers have been developing. In addition to changing behaviors (bathing less often and for shorter periods, washing only full loads of dishes and clothes, etc.), homeowners can install these new "waste water" systems to reuse water that's still mostly clean, thereby reducing their own demand.

Why throw away rinse water when it's still good? Use it to wash floors or appliances.

Why throw away rinse water when it's still good? Use it to wash floors or appliances.

Why is anyone using drinking water for this? Refill the tank with greywater instead.

Why is anyone using drinking water for this? Refill the tank with greywater instead.

Wastewater (Recycling) Systems

Some of the terms below describe new technologies, while others are nature's cleansing techniques that can be adapted for use in the home.


Greywater refers to tap water that has been used for cleaning or food preparation. This amounts to 50–80% of the water used in the home. Plumbing is altered to send water from sinks, tubs, and the washing machine, through a filter of some sort, to a storage container or pump for a second, specified use.


This term refers to the use of toilet water or sewer water for a second (or third) use, after filtration and a minimal degree of purification, usually for plants outside.

Natural Filtration

In nature, water filtration occurs when gravity pulls water down through sand or silt into the water table. The sand or silt captures and holds any solids (which plants can use), while the water takes out any loose salts, chemicals, or minerals (many of which our bodies need). They clean each other. Natural filtration is often included as part of a greywater or blackwater system.

Conversion by Plants

This is also a natural occurrence in the wild, where what we call sewage is actually food to plants. In China and other agricultural cultures, human wastes were used on a regular basis to "fertilize" their crops. We in the Western world regularly use chicken and fish feces as fertilizer (plants love it). If we in the West were healthier people, we could use human wastes this way too. This natural phenomenon is the basis for blackwater conversion systems.

Greywater Recycling

As of 2009, there were more than 8,000,000 greywater systems set up in the United States. Of those, 1.7 million were in California, only 200 of which required permits. Nearly 100% of houses in the country older than 70 years are set up with greywater systems, according to California Greywater Policy Data.

The complexity of the greywater system you choose for your home will depend on your current plumbing setup. Installing one that is too complicated can waste your money, yet you'll want to get the best benefit possible and only about 15% of users currently do. Here are descriptions of several different types of systems available.

Greywater left over from watering indoor plants can be used to flush toilets.

Greywater left over from watering indoor plants can be used to flush toilets.

Different Water-Recycling Systems

  • One system lightly treats and moves used water from the shower/bath and bathroom sink to a storage tank to use for flushing the toilet. This system depends on the availability of space in a basement, under the bathroom sink, or next to the toilet for additional piping and water storage.
  • Another type of system reroutes used water from the washing machine to water the landscape outside. Excess water can be set up to replenish a small water feature or even a series of shallow birdbaths. The system is fairly easy to install and is common in drought-prone areas of the world.
  • A whole-house system collects water from all sink drains (except maybe the kitchen) and the washing machine, treats it as needed, and sends it outside to use for landscaping. Kitchen water is sometimes not used, because food grease and garbage in used kitchen water can too easily clog pipes.
  • Some DIY systems install a plastic tank to store greywater until needed, but this is illegal in most localities. In those areas where it is legal, this water is required to be used within 24 hours to avoid the buildup of harmful bacteria.
  • The Earthship whole-house system sends all sink/shower drain and washing machine water to indoor planters with special setups that filter, as they water decorative and edible plants. Excess water from the planters is captured to use for flushing toilets. Toilet drainage must have been built separately from sink drainage for this system to work. This is the most complete and practical system of all.

Note: Diaper water is considered blackwater and should be properly disposed of in the toilet.

Indoor Garden - Kale, tomatoes, and other plants can be watered with greywater.

Indoor Garden - Kale, tomatoes, and other plants can be watered with greywater.

Treatment of Effluent (Blackwater)

Efficient blackwater recycling systems focus on nurturing a healthy set of bacteria to process the waste—in other words, to make it non-toxic and healthy for garden plants. The piping is the same for all systems in that sludge is piped from the house toilet(s) to a processing tank outside. The difference between systems is how the sludge is treated. There is no odor with a healthy system and the landscape thrives with the extra nutrition.

  • One system introduces bacteria in a two-step process, using water and air injection to encourage bacterial growth. The last step injects a small amount of chlorine to decontaminate, thereby meeting the requirements of most local health codes. The amount of chlorine is small enough that it doesn't hurt the landscape when watered.
  • A different system positions the tank on the south side of a house in a sunny location, using the heat of the sun to enhance aerobic digestion of the sludge and UV rays to disinfect.
  • Some use a tamped-down version of the same chemical process used by waste reclamation plants. They first screen out solids, compacting them to send to the landfill, while passing the liquid on. They use oxidation to start bacterial processing of the liquid, pass it through a finer filtration screen, then use an Ultra-Violet treatment for disinfection. Finally, they chlorinate it. This system, of course, costs more than any of the others. It's also unnecessarily complicated for most homes.

Note: Most systems have no smell. If there is a smell, check what you are putting into the waste stream. If you are flushing disinfectant, medications, or something that will harm bacterial growth, the result of their struggle to stay alive is likely causing the smell.

Outdoor Garden - Use blackwater on decorative plants, bushes, and trees outdoors.

Outdoor Garden - Use blackwater on decorative plants, bushes, and trees outdoors.

Wastewater Disposal

With the installation of systems such as these, the definition of wastewater changes. Water in all of its stages of cleanliness becomes valuable, as long as it can be used in some way. "Waste" water then becomes only that when it has no more use in the home that anyone can think of. That reduces the amount of wastewater to almost nothing, especially for those who live in the country, where regulations are looser. If there is any water left over after these reuse procedures, it can be disposed of using the regular house sewage system.

Water Reuse Cautions

As with any new technology, there are certain behaviors that need to be learned or changed. Here are a few things to watch out for:

  • Don't throw anything toxic down the sinks or toilet. Better yet, don't even have toxic materials in the house.
  • Check on and follow local codes related to the installation of greywater and blackwater systems. If codes are not favorable to the use of such systems, work with city or county officials to get them changed.
  • Instead of throwing unused medications down the toilet or sinks, return them to the pharmacy you got them from.
  • Keep pets away from toilets. This is not drinking water anymore.
  • Use biodegradable soaps instead of the normal ones.
  • Eat healthy to create healthy human fertilizer for your plants.

Recycled Water and Health Regulations

In spite of the huge number of households with greywater systems already installed in the United States, there are as many who would like to install a system but can't due to restrictive health, sanitation, or plumbing codes. If you have already located an installer, that person will probably know what the restrictions are. They may already have found a way around them. However, if you want to install a system yourself, here is a way to check on whether your local codes allow or restrict the installation:

  1. What regulations are on the books? Go to your city's website. Locate the phone number of the city clerk and call. Tell them your plans. Ask for a copy of whichever regulations stand in the way. If they are not the right person to talk to, ask who is, although they'll most likely give you the contact info right away.
  2. Look through whatever the city sends you to see where the sticking points are. Call a local installer to see what problems they may have run into. This will arm you with ideas to meet the code, or ways to protest the code and perhaps help rewrite it.
  3. If changing the code is in order and you are up to it, post somewhere in a public place that you are looking for other people interested in installing grey or blackwater systems. Get together with them to discuss potential procedures. It always helps when making waves to have support.
  4. Find a lawyer or someone with legal skills to help you write new legislation. Add a builder or plumber to your group too. Take questions to a public city council meeting to test their receptiveness to this kind of change in code. It may be that one of the councilors would be interested in working with you to frame new legislation and/or get it passed.
  5. Follow through until it works, staying pleasant but persistent. Homeowners, local utilities, and the city will more than likely all appreciate you for it. And you will end up with a more water-efficient home.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 Susette Horspool


Max Hav on September 02, 2013:

Great article about waste water treatment! For more information regarding Grey Water use in Australia, visit

Heidi from Gulf Coast, USA on August 17, 2012:

Thank you! :)

I had not heard of them prior to your post.

Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on August 14, 2012:

Breathe2travel, have you heard of Green Plumbers? It's a certification system started in Australia that migrated to the US and has become popular. They train in how to install low-flow everything. Here is their website -

Also there's the WaterSmart Conference that's held every October in Las Vegas. That's where I first saw compost (no-water) toilets that I'll be writing a hub on pretty soon -

Heidi from Gulf Coast, USA on August 14, 2012:

This is a wonderfully useful hub. I am curious if there is a certification process for plumbers for installing a system in homes. I am interested in using this system.

Voted useful & sharing on my fb wall. :)

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on August 13, 2012:

watergeek, this an awesome and thorough hub. We all need to conserve water in any way possible. The supply is not limitless and more areas are feeling the shortage crunch by the day. Congrats on getting the HOTD

Voted up, useful and awesome. Sharing it.

Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on August 13, 2012:

The more I write about it, the more I realize how incredibly valuable water is - it's the basis of life on earth. How could we have devalued it for so long?

Thank you for your commendations and your interest. I'm so glad so many of us are taking action, even if just to get informed.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on August 13, 2012:

Very informative Hub and deserving of the HOTD. Congrats! I use grey water to water my yard and plants. I divert the water from my washing machine to use it on the lawn and plants.

I voted this Hub UP, etc. and will share.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on August 13, 2012:

I am totally in the dark, but you have begun to enlighten me. I know water is one of , well probably THE most important resource we have and we all need to be aware of conservation and purity efforts. Thanks for a Fantastic Hub that is well honored as HOTD!

Your Cousins from Atlanta, GA on August 13, 2012:

I love the idea of using greywater and I wish the US would push it across the country. It makes so much sense and would save money and resources. Interesting and useful HOTD!

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on August 13, 2012:

Very informative hub. I learn many things here. Thanks for writing and share with us. Cheers, Prasetio

Lanie Robinson from Canada on August 13, 2012:

Once again, Bravo. Thanks for teaching me more about the greywater systems which I only learned about today.

Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on August 13, 2012:

Thanks everyone. I'm very pleased that so many people are seeing this and wanting to do something about it. It was, of course, my intent - to make this information available to the public, so people know they have choices. Please spread the word!

SusanRose5 on August 13, 2012:

Thanks for such a thouroughly researched article! Not only does this help us in a broad sense of water conservation all over the country, but also individual home systems! Just thinking of it makes me want to cut back on my own usage!

Emma Kisby from Berkshire, UK on August 13, 2012:

Well done for your Hub of the Day! Fantastic hub, really informative :)

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on August 13, 2012:

This is definitely something that we all should be doing. The information you have shared will be helpful in planning how to reclaim waste water. My efforts at this point are catching rainwater in barrels. Then it is used of course on my plants. It helps Mother Earth and also cuts down on my water bill...

Thank you for sharing this and congratulations on HOTD.

whonunuwho from United States on August 13, 2012:

A timely work and well needed in today's shrinking water supply. The purification of water is going to be a topic of major proportions for a long time to come. It is our lives we are talking about.The body is more than eighty percent water and the earth is also. Without it we will all dry up and perish into the dust. Mars is a good example of what our planet could some day look just like without our conservation of water.

Gamerelated from California on August 13, 2012:

For sure you are right. We should not wait for them to change anything. We can't depend on them to do the right thing. That is why it is good that you are writing these articles that bring awareness to this subject. Keep up the good work.

Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on August 13, 2012:

When we really start taking action, things will change. Then we won't have to run out of water and governments won't have to tell us what to do. I think people are starting to wake up to the fact that change starts with us. Thanks for being one of them, Gamerelated!

Gamerelated from California on August 13, 2012:

Your article is outstanding. Southern California is always short on water and I am always trying to think of ways to save water. I think this issue will only grow in importance as population increases. City governments are always telling us what we can and can't do, but when we really start running out of water things will change.

Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on August 13, 2012:

Thanks everyone. I was VERY excited when I walked through the earthship model to see how thoroughly they utilized water. It's still amazing to me that they live in the middle of the desert in New Mexico, subsist entirely on rain, and have enough water to grow plants.

Yes Marcy, of course it's ok to link this to your articles. In fact, thank you for the honor!

Healthylife, the cost will depend on your domestic setup. If you have a washer that's level with your yard, a greywater system that redirects wash water to the landscape shouldn't cost much. Of course, you can start right away with capturing warmup water from your tub to use for houseplants.

Dreamer at heart from Northern California on August 13, 2012:

Your article really explains some options for all of us to consider in our continual use of water. I appreciate the educational quality of your hub. We waste way too much of our precious resources. I wrote 2 articles here about the importance of water.

Craig Hartranft from Southeastern Pennsylvania on August 13, 2012:

Well thought out and thorough hub about a great topic. I'll thinking twice about the use of my dishwater.

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on August 13, 2012:

What a great topic, and so thoroughly covered! I'd like to link it to a few of my hubs on clean water and water conservation, if that's okay? Congrats on the HOTD! Very much deserved!

healthylife2 on August 13, 2012:

Very informative hub. I was completely unfamiliar with the concept of reusing water for another purpose. Are these systems expensive to install? Congratulations on HOD!!

sarkari on August 13, 2012:

Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on July 31, 2012:

Thanks everyone. Code restrictions on the automated use of greywater are a good example of practices that need to be let go. They were established at a time when people didn't know much about contaminated water and intestinal diseases were much more prevalent. Now that we have the technology to use greywater wisely and on a small scale, governmental restrictions need to be modified.

marthamuldoon from Austin, TX on July 31, 2012:

It makes a lot of sense to start seriously considering graywater as a resource. In the US, communities are slow to approve systems, but they're gaining favor. Nice hub.

shalini sharan from Delhi on July 31, 2012:

this is a really useful hub, thank tyou for sharing it

Brittanie Anne from Seattle WA on July 30, 2012:

Great hub very useful information!

Linda Chechar from Arizona on July 30, 2012:

I think greywater systems are a wonderful idea. I'm pleased to know they are being widely used, but just as frustrated that many households can't implement them because of municipal codes. What a great article about water reuse. Thanks for the thorough overview!