Greywater: Laundry to Landscape

Posted on by linnea

A greywater project has been long in the making here at Hyperion. For those not familiar, greywater refers to all household waste water (aside from toilet, which is called blackwater). A greywater system attempts to divert that waste water from the sewer and reuse it in some way, typically for irrigating the surrounding landscape. This house has seen its fair share of awkward bucketing and dirty sink water siphoning. Recently I had taken to filling a 5 gallon bucket with used dishwater and lowering it out my bedroom window, then lifting it over a retaining wall to water a row of jasmine. Naturally this led to lots of spillage and unpleasantness, and in the midst of August heat with the jasmine looking pathetic, it was time to figure out something better. This is my first solo designed and completed greywater project. It is about time, I took a greywater installers course from the awesome folks at Greywater Guerrillas almost two years ago. They are based up in the Bay but have a few events in LA in the coming weeks, definitely worth checking out.

As a renter, there are limited options for greywater without risking some serious landlord discord. A laundry to landscape system was the only way to go in our particular situation. I wasn’t altering any existing plumbing and I was using a washing machine owned by us. I didn’t even have to cut into the house to get the greywater line outside since there was already a perfect size hole in the siding, apparently cut years ago to run some cable. When we leave, the system can come with us. The laundry machine’s built in pump allows me to water uphill from the greywater source, which was exactly what I needed with the jasmine being across concrete and above a retaining wall. And for those concerned about such things, a laundry to landscape system is the only greywater system which can be installed in Los Angeles County without a permit.

Aside from my class notes, I referred to Art Ludwig’s book “The New Create an Oasis with Greywater”. Art’s website is a wealth of free information on all sorts of greywater systems. There is even a parts list for the Laundry to Landscape system which I found very helpful.

Here is what our laundry set up looked like before. Pay no attention to our very effective “laundry shelf” in the background. You can see the washer hose is just directed straight into the metal sewer pipe.

Here is the design of the interior portion of the system. Most of the components are labeled, you can click on the image to zoom in. The potable water inlets to the washer are hidden behind the machine. Since the laundry machine is on an interior wall, it took some maneuvering to get the greywater line to the hole in the siding. Though the water coming out of the machine is pressurized I tried to use as few angles as possible to get the pipe outside to avoid undue pressure on the laundry pump.

Here is the machine, post greywatering. Labeling is very important, having directions clearly posted limits the possibility of user error. Even though my roommates and I walked through using the system together, we have guests coming through the house pretty regularly who will be unfamiliar with the system. We are using Biopac Laundry detergent, which conveniently is sold in bulk at the Nature Mart Bulk Bin just up the street.

A head on view of the installed three way valve.

The brass 3-way valve! The brass 3-way valve is the priciest part of the system, usually between $45 and $55. They are also surprisingly hard to find. You can order one of Art Ludwig’s site, but it was faster for me to order it through a local Ferguson’s Plumbing store. Make sure you give them a call first, because they did not have it in stock and had to ship in in from up north. At the bottom of this post I’ll list all of my sources for greywater parts.

And a close up of the 3-way valve! With 1" PVC male adapters attached.

Threaded into the bottom of the 3-way valve is the grey 1″PVC male adapter by barbed fitting. Attaching the washer hose to this fitting is sort of finicky business. Even after I had the hose clamp tightened all the way it still leaked, so I ended up sealing that connection with a layer of silicone caulk on the outside. No leaks so far.

Once outside the house, I changed from 1″ PVC pipe to 1″ HDPE tubing. Finding 1″ HDPE in rolls under 500 ft. is hard. I was lucky enough be able to get sme from a friend who had extra. Home Depot does sell it by the foot but it is pretty expensive. Perhaps consider going in on a big roll with a few different households, and then you can all help out installing each other’s systems! Below you can see the garden hose clean out (important for testing and flushing out the system) and the swing check valve (the first outlet in the landscape is above the height of the washer, so the check valve prevents gravity from pushing water back into the machine) The line had to cross a narrow walkway and then travel up a 3 ft. retaining wall. Fortunately this walkway along the side of the house is never used, except to access the water heater, so tripping is not a danger even though the line is exposed.
UPDATE: The 3 ft jump in elevation proved too much height for our washing machine, and after a few months of use the pump started to struggle a little bit. However, running the outside line straight to our front yard, instead of over the retaining wall, would have completely fixed the problem. Unfortunately we had to move before I had a chance do this!

HDPE tubing crossing cement walkway and going up the retaining wall.

Swing check valve

Below is a diagram of how I divided up irrigation of the space. All vegetation was existing, except for the orange tree at the lowest outlet. If a time comes when I want to invest some more money into that space, I would love to buy some kiwi vines to trellis between the jasmine. Unfortunately the gardeners our landlord has hired cut down the fig tree right after the system was installed. I’m not too worried though, this is possibly the hundreth time that tree has been shorn down to the ground (it even had a bunch of root killer poured on it one time) and it really doesn’t seem to slow the plant down too much. With all this extra water I’m sure it will bounce back in no time.

The cats are very intrigued by the system when it is running. I put a sign up next to the fig tree in the hopes of preventing future shearing.

The Tee outlets empty into mulch basins. Digging the basins was the most labor intensive part of the system. I threw a greywater party one afternoon and had a bunch of friends come over and dig in exchange for pizza and hugs. The basins are about 2 feet deep and a foot wide. I didn’t stress out to much about the exact sizing. I figured I would monitor the system as I was using it and would expand the mulch basins if they were ever in danger of overflowing. The basins are filled with some free mulch I shoveled from next to the Griffith Park composting facility.

A close up of one of the Tee outlets in action.

Newly planted orange tree! The last outlet of the greywater line.

The whole space being irrigated above the retaining wall.

The long absence has been due to some traveling, some projects and some laziness. But my hope is be back on track and posting regularly. We are in fall for real, despite this strange hot snap. I love how the air smells this time of year, that slight chill mixed with wood smoke. October has always been one of my favorite months, and I am excited we are here. Things are brewing.

Greywater System Resources

Ferguson Enterprises Good local plumbing store. They have a big irrigation store up in the valley somewhere I believe.

Hirsh Pipe and Supply was afforable and helpful. I went to this branch in Hollywood.

Dripworks You can order basically everything you would possibly need for a simple greywater system online through Dripworks.

If installing your own system seems intimidating, a professional greywater installer may be in order. Leigh Jerrard is a great local system designer and installer, you can reach him here at Greywater Corps.

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