Say you're an environmentally-conscious homeowner. You've got solar panels on your roof, and you've followed all the tips for an energy-efficient house. You feel great about helping the environment, and the big savings on your utility bills don't hurt, either. So what's the next step?
If you want to really go green, you might consider installing “recycling-ready” plumbing. What does it mean? Your house will automatically reuse most of the water that goes down the drain for non-potable uses, like flushing the toilet.
The idea is picking up steam as fresh water supplies are dwindling, especially in the Southwest and California, which experienced a serious drought for the third straight year. At least one city in California is requiring all new construction to include plumbing set up to recycle gray water starting in 2015.
How it Works
Don't worry! The system doesn't send dirty toilet water back through the house. Instead, it takes water from your bathroom sinks, showers and your washing machine. Water from the kitchen sink and dishwasher is too dirty to be recycled, so it goes directly out to the sewer. For the rest of it, the setup sends the gray water to a storage tank, where it gets treated chemically and particles and oils are filtered out. Of course, even with the treatment you don't want to drink the recycled water, so it gets diverted to the toilet and to outdoor hoses instead of back to the main house system.
Companies that install recycling systems claim that they capture two-thirds of gray water and reduce outgoing sewage by up to 66 percent. That translates to an immediate reduction in your water bill. Some systems even capture the heat from water going down the drain and send it back to the hot water heater, which will cut down on your electric or gas usage as well.
Bear in mind that recycle-ready plumbing does require maintenance, such as adding chemicals to the treatment system and changing filters. Ask a plumbing professional about any potential issues or ongoing costs before making a decision.
What Else Can I Do?
Water recycling systems are best suited for new construction, since it can cost tens of thousands of dollars to retrofit your current setup. If want to conserve water but don't have the money or capacity to have a system installed into your plumbing, you can still cut back by following a few simple tips:
- Catch your shower water in a bucket and use it to water plants or flush the toilet.
- Don't leave the faucets running when you're doing the dishes or brushing your teeth.
- If you have a dishwasher, scrape food off the plates first instead of rinsing them.
- Install a low-flow shower head and limit the time you spend in the shower.
- Consider a policy of flushing your toilet only when there’s solid waste.
- Use rain barrels to collect outdoor water from your roof and gutters.