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Water Saving Ideas

Greywater Recycling PDF Print


In an effort to find new and innovative ways to conserve water in residential building, MasterCraft has been looking into a new water recycling strategy.  This particular strategy involves repurposing water that has been used in sinks, dishwashers, washing machines, tubs, and showers to be used in irrigation or as part of a composting toilet system.  The water produced in sinks, tubs, showers, and dishwashers is known as greywater, meaning that its contamination level is between fresh water (whitewater) and water contaminated with human waste (blackwater).  Greywater must be used quickly because the bacteria accumulated during household use will render the water unsafe for repurposing after 24 hours.  Greywater is an abundant source of water for irrigation and can help reduce septic use since it comprises 50-80% of a house’s wastewater. ( Using greywater can reduce the amount of freshwater needed to supply a home and reduces the amount of waste entering septic and sewage systems. It should also be noted that not all greywater is equally contaminated, wastewater that contains food particles or has been used to clean especially dirty laundry are still classified as blackwater and should be disposed of normally.


Determining Feasibility

A greywater recycling system is not ideal for every home and certain criteria must be met in order to properly install and maintain the operation.  Climate and soil are two major factors in determining whether or not using greywater is actually a viable alternative.  The soil surrounding a home must have the right level of permeability, meaning the soil cannot be too sandy or have too much clay.  If the water isn’t filtered thoroughly or if the soil is too dense for the water to fully filter through the soil the greywater will actually have a negative effect on the area being irrigated.  If the system is used in a cold climate or a wet climate it may not be as effective since irrigation is not needed as often and could leave the operator with an excess of greywater in storage.

If the homeowner lives in an area where such a system is heavily regulated with permits and restrictions, the complexity of the system might diminish any cost saving potential. In this case a traditional plumbing system that utilizes water efficient fixtures and conscientious users might be just as effective.  However, if none of these obstacles hinder the homeowner’s desire to conserve water then such a system can be ideal.


What does the system consist of?

A basic greywater system utilizes the source of the greywater (i.e. tubs, sinks, washing machines), collection plumbing to move the separated greywater to a surge tank, a filter and a pump for said collection tank, and distribution plumbing to move the water to different locations.  (Note: this process is far more complex if the greywater is used to replace freshwater in the disposal of human waste because it will be tied into the composting toilet system.) Such a system can be installed using traditional plumbing and irrigation techniques, and the greywater should never come in contact with humans before it is properly filtered.



Benefits to Recycling Greywater

In the summertime the majority of household freshwater consumption is actually spent on irrigation of lawns and landscaping.  Utilizing a greywater system will cut down on water expenditure and conserve freshwater for more important tasks.  Since the majority of a household’s wastewater is greywater, finding an alternative use for it will help maintain wastewater systems for a longer period of time and will put less strain on the overall water system.  When used in conjunction with a composting toilet such a system is an excellent alternative when developing in an area that will not support a traditional septic system.  Most importantly, utilizing this system reduces the users impact on the environment and ensures that one of our most important resources is used responsibly.





Thanks to the following sources for their relevant information:


Composting Toilet PDF Print

If you asked most people today what composting meant to them they would most likely describe a process they use to dispose of yard waste or basic kitchen scraps in their backyard. This would make sense considering the fact that these are the most common uses of the process. However, a customer recently asked the staff at MasterCraft whether or not we have ever developed or installed a composting toilet. Since we were unfamiliar with the system, we did some research.

Basic Definition and Different Types

According to the National Small Flows Clearing House and Oikos, an energy efficient building information source, a composting toilet system is viable and eco-friendly alternative to traditional septic disposal systems that contains and controls the composting of human waste in the home. The types of composting toilet systems vary greatly in size and style. Some are self contained, meaning the waste is stored directly underneath the toilet. Others utilize a centralized system that directs waste through a chute into a much larger composting container. Furthermore, the composting container itself can be continuous or use multiple alternating containers. Multiple containers are used to mitigate negative effects such as odor and overflow, depending on a homes spatial limitations or even personal preferences. Systems can be bought directly from the manufacturer or custom built on site.

How does it Work?

The system itself relies on aerobic and fungi in unsaturated conditions (not fully immersed in water) to break down the waste inside the composting container. If maintained and used properly the system should break solid waste down to ten or thirty percent its original volume. The bacteria and fungi in the composting container rely on a certain temperature and moisture content to turn the solid waste into liquid and or gas. The final result of the process is a “humus” material that has to be burned (Illegal in some municipalities) or removed by a licensed hauler. Any gas produced is released via a vent and fan system attached to the container.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Use

There are several advantages to using this system, but also a few concerns to consider when deciding on whether or not to utilize a composting toilet. Composting toilets do not usually require water for flushing (there are some systems which offer it as an option) and will help reduce a household’s water consumption. Composting systems are ideally suited for new construction especially in areas where conventional options are difficult to install. Additionally, composting systems can also compost basic kitchen wastes and would allow the owner to reduce household garbage. The biggest concern associated with the use of a composting system is the proper maintenance and care of the apparatus. The system requires a large commitment and a great deal of responsibility from the owner. If not taken care of properly the system can cause several hazards. The most obvious of these hazards is the presence of unwanted odors or even the sight of waste. More serious, is the high potential for health risks if the system is not properly contained and the waste is not disposed of correctly. If the system is maintained and proper attention is given to its upkeep, it should remain a viable and safe alternative to a traditional septic system.


Due to a wide range of options and variables associated with manufacturing and instillation, the cost of most systems range from $1,500 to $6,000. In some cases the price for such a system might be even greater depending on the feasibility of operating and installing the unit.


Here is a visual example of a basic composting toilet system:





Thanks to the following sources for providing relevant information:


Drought Tolerant Plantings PDF Print

Limiting water usage will become increasingly more important as time progresses and our population continues to grow.  We do not give much thought to the water that we use for our gardens and beds, but as in California and other dry climates, the rationing of water may eventually become a necessity for all of us.  Rather than wait until the problem forces conservation techniques, why don’t we implement water saving principles now and maybe even prevent the need for rationing in the future.

One of the best solutions to limiting our garden and bed water usage is to introduce drought tolerance principles.  Drought tolerance involves more than just introducing drought tolerant plants into our existing environment.  The process as described in the book Gaia’s Garden - A guide to home-scale permaculture by Toby Hemenway (, is a 5 pronged approach to reducing water requirements and increasing the ability of a garden to sustain in dryer climates and seasons.

The 5 steps in this process are:

1.       Retain as much water on site in the existing soil as possible
2.       Create rain gardens or micro swales to hold water
3.       Plant densely and keep the soil shaded
4.       Install plants that are tolerant to dryer conditions and consume less water
5.       Mulch

Here is a breakdown of these 5 steps for more clarity.

Soil Water Retention

Without good water retention in your soil, even the most drought resistant plants will perish.  Heavy clay soils with a thin layer of topsoil will not sustain plantings without supplemental irrigation.  However, soils that are prepared correctly can act as water reservoirs to sustain plant life during dry times.  1 foot of properly prepared soil will hold up to several inches of water.

Quality soil can be created relatively quickly with a technique called sheet mulching or over time by adding organic matter such as compost.  Either system produces soil that is multi-layered and deep with organic matter.  This enriched soil provides a prime system for holding water and capturing rain as it falls.

Micro Swales and Rain Gardens

Rain gardens and Micro Swales are both designed to help contain water in the soil.  Micro Swales in an “S” shape profile act almost as small terraces.  These profiles help to keep water from running off and allow it to soak into the soil.  Rain gardens are small micro detention areas that collect rain water from hillsides and roof systems.  Any system such as this encourages the water to remain on site instead of running off into the storm system.

Dense Planting Patterns and Shading

When planting patterns are dense, the soil is shaded and remains cooler.  Shaded soil will not be as exposed to the sun and to evaporation of water.  Heavy mulching of beds will also keep the soil shaded and will help to retain moisture for the plants.  As plants die or as leaves fall off, this material should be mulched right into the soil.  This added mulch will also provide additional shading and organic material.  Soils with more mulch and organic material are much better at tolerating heavy rains.  Self mulching in a continual pattern will also increase fertility in the soil.

Install Plants with Decreased Water Requirements

Only after a proper soil base has been established, should you introduce plants.  Using plants that require less water will help your gardens and beds maintain themselves without demanding near the water of a topsoil over clay system.  Contact your local landscaper or landscape architect for a listing of drought tolerant plants that will grow well in your area of the country and will create the look that you desire.   Please check out our references page for ideas.


Creating drought tolerance involves more than just the selection of plants.  It is a detailed process that begins with the quality soil.  Soil that is prepared and maintained properly is the foundation for good water retention and decreased water loss through evaporation.


Special Thanks to for guidance on this article

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