Laundry to Landscape 2.0

I just installed a “laundry to landscape” greywater system at the house of Lora “Homegrown Neighbor” Hall using greywater guru Art Ludwig’s free open-source plans. It was a cinch. And, thanks to a revision in the California plumbing code last year, it’s legal with no permit required.

I started in the laundry room by rigging up a three way diverter valve so that Lora can route the greywater back to the sewer if it’s been raining too much or if she’s bleaching her Prada (not likey, by the way). The diverter, somewhat of an exotic plumbing part, was ordered off of Ludwig’s website. At $47 it was the most expensive part of the system, but it’s well built.

Next, I rigged up two check valves, essentially a one-way gate, one to prevent greywater from siphoning back into the washing machine and another to act as a vent. You could also just use a six foot section of pipe as a vent, but Lora’s overhanging roof made that impossible.

The most labor intensive part of the process was digging the trench for the pipe out in the garden. Lora decided how many outlets she wanted in the garden and we consulted the “calculator” on Ludwig’s site (more of a chart than a calculator, actually, since he’s done the math for you). The calculator basically gives a range of outlet sizes and numbers so that you can get an even flow to the outlets but not risk burning out the washing machine’s pump. With nine outlets Ludwig suggests a 3/8-inch hole. We simply drilled 3/8-inch holes in the bottom of the PVC pipe that we ran out into the garden. The outlets flow into mini-mulch basins along the side of some perennial shrubs and a few small fruit trees.

Altogether it took just a few hours. Lora ran a load of clothes immediately and it worked perfectly. It was one of the easiest home improvement projects I’ve done. No cursing whatsoever! Now Lora can’t wait to do the laundry. She, of course, uses only Oasis Biocompatible Laundry Detergent. Note that many “eco” detergents will kill terrestrial plants–I’ll do a blog post on this shortly, as I discovered one major manufacturer claiming that a detergent was safe for greywater only to discover that it contained several different sodium compounds, definitely bad for soil!

Ludwig gives both a version of this project in PVC and another in HDPE plastic. I chose to work with the politically incorrect PVC since I couldn’t find the groovier 1-inch HDPE in less than 300 foot rolls. If any of you know of a source where you can get 1-inch HDPE by the foot, please let me know in the comments.

If you’d like to do this yourself the plans are all on Ludwigs site under Laundry to Landscape. In addition to the plans there is a parts list for both the PVC and HDPE versions and the aforementioned calculator.  If you don’t think you can do it yourself (remember it’s easy!) you could conceivably hand the plans to a handyman. A plumber would be too expensive, in my opinion.

See also Ludwig’s book The New Create an Oasis with Greywater.

Laundry to Landscape Legal in LA

Ludwig’s “Laundry to Landscape”
California’s new greywater code, passed in August of last year, was a big step in the right direction. The revised code legalized simple “laundry to landscape” systems of the sort promoted by greywater guru Art Ludwig and allowed their installation without a permit. Here’s a pdf from the City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety confirming that you don’t need a permit within LA city limits for “a graywater system in a one or two-family dwelling that is supplied only by a clothes-washer and/or a single-fixture system.” Though, confusingly, it also goes on to say, “Any alteration to the building or plumbing, electrical or mechanical system
requires a permit.” I guess we shouldn’t expect clarity from a department that can’t seem to get around to regulating thousands of illegal billboards. But I digress. I’m calling my laundry to landscape greywater installation legal!
Hopefully all California cites will respect the state code. Ludwig says,
“Trying to sell permits to California graywater users is like trying to sell a $100 search engine that you have to register for to people who use google. Any standard that can’t compete with “free” and “zero time for compliance” is doomed to irrelevance.

The only way government agencies can compete is to offer “free”, “zero time for compliance” legal systems that are better, and can be installed by professionals instead of having to do it yourself.

This involves surrendering the illusion of control, in trade for actually making things better on the ground.”

By foregoing permits, city government can play a role in encouraging greywater. Legalizing the practice makes it possible for professional plumbers to do the installations in addition to plucky DIYers. Kinda like prostitution in Holland–keep it out in the open and you’l have less . . . shoddy plumbing.
See Art Ludwig’s excellent website to see how to install your own laundry to landscape system. His book, Create an Oasis with Greywater is also highly recommended. And, if you’ve got a laundry to landscape system, make sure to use Oasis Biocompatible Detergent.

Homegrown Evolution Podcast Episode #1

Subscribe to the Homegrown Evolution podcast in itunes here.

Download the mp3 on archive.org.

On this first episode of the Homegrown Evolution podcast we talk food preservation with author Ashley English who blogs at small-measure.blogspot.com. English will have two books out next year on food preservation and chickens, part of a series entitled “Homemade Living,” (Lark Books). She also has a weekly column every Friday on Design*Sponge at www.designspongeonline.com/category/small-measures.

In the second part of the show we talk to Wing Tam, assistant division manager for the Watershed Protection Program in the City of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Sanitation about a new rainwater harvesting pilot project. You can find out more about the program at www.larainwaterharvesting.org. We conclude with a reaction to this new program from river activist Joe Linton, author of Down by the Los Angeles River and one of the bloggers behind lacreekfreak.wordpress.com.

As we say on the podcast, we prefer gardening to staring at computer screens and putting a podcast together involves a hell of a lot of the latter. Don’t look for frequent updates, but we’ll probably put out another one in the fall. Please excuse the mike popping and other technical flaws, as we’re still working out the technical side. We hope you’ll enjoy the podcast while, say, gardening or prepping food for canning. We’re all about open source, so feel free to redistribute or rebroadcast.

Music on the program is from archive.org:

A bluegrass cover of DEVO’s Mongoloid by the Hotfoot Quartet. Bob Frank, guitar and lead vocal, Jim Blum, upright bass and vocals; Paul Kovac, banjo and vocals; Bob Smakula, mandolin and vocals. Available here.

Also from archive.org, a collection of surf music.

Going Gray!



Got a nice note and some pics from Ben in Portland:

“I bought your book and it has become my mission manual. We own a house in Portland, OR, and I just today did my first project out of the book – routing the shower drain into the garden. It cost about $60 for all the pipe, glue, a 2″ hole saw to drill through the wall, and a new drain kit (my old drain was decroded as crap). Our house is only 750 sq. ft. (plenty for me, my gf, and our 3 dogs), and luckily our bathroom is right next to the garden plot I’ve had for about 3 years now. We’ve got a ton of squash going, which as you know takes a good bit of water, so I thought our not-so-gray shower water would be much appreciated by the little yellow bastards. Another benefit is that we won’t have to deal with the recurring shower clogs which have been forcing us to use drano.

The drain setup was super simple from a plumbing perspective, so all I did was cut off the old drainpipe, replace the drain assembly, and route a new pipe out to the garden. It took three 22 degree couplers, one 4 foot and one 10 foot section of pipe. the pictures sort of show what the finished piping looks like. I know it looks like I had to rip through the floor to get to the drain, but that’s just because whoever installed our shower years ago did a terrible job.

I drilled holes every 6 inches or so in the pipe that goes out into the garden. I may need to cover them with mesh (I’d appreciate your advice here) and dig some trenches to route the water into the rest of the garden, but for now it’s working great!

Thanks for your wonderful book and website. I will send you more pictures as i do more projects!

-Ben”

California’s New Greywater Code: Common Sense Legalized!

On the left is our yard which is irrigated by the washing machine. On the right, the neighbor’s yard which is never watered.

This Tuesday the California Building Standards Commission legalized our formally outlaw greywater system. For several years now, we’ve sent our washing machine waste water out to fruit trees in the front yard. The new regulations are a rare common sense moment for our otherwise troubled state government. Let’s hope our current hard times spur more innovation like this. Originally slated to go into effect in 2010, the plumbing code was updated as an emergency measure to deal with drought conditions that have plagued the southwestern US for years. Under the new California greywater code:

1. In most cases you won’t need a permit.

2. Allows discharge into a simple mulch basin rather than the expensive and complicated sub-surface emitters required under the old regulations.

3. No exspensive pumps or filters required!

Here’s the new code as amended (pdf).

Unfortunately the code can be superseded by local municipalities. Plumbers unions opposed loosening the code, no doubt fearing the loss of business. Combined with NIMBYs, they could put pressure on city governments to keep greywater illegal. It’s time for us Californians to be vigilant and start letter campaigns should cities try to restrict our new right to use our greywater.

As for the practical side of this new law, I’d suggest that anyone interested in installing a greywater system keep it simple and low cost. I can’t think of any better resource than Art Ludwig’s book The New Create an Oasis with Greywater: Choosing, Building and Using Greywater Systems and his website oasisdesign.net. Take note of Ludwig’s free open-source laundry to landscape plan.

And don’t forget, Homegrown Evolution is offering a DIY Greywater class on Sunday August 16th at 11 a.m. in Silver Lake (Los Angeles). Sign up here.

The Great Greywater Debate- PVC or Polyethylene?

PVC v. Polyethylene

Homegrown Neighbor here. I’ve been wanting a greywater system for a long time. My old house does not exactly make access to the pipes easy, so I’m starting with just the washing machine. The neighbor, Mr. Homegrown, is anxious to try out a new design from Oasis.

So we have been trying to get all the pieces and get it done- and here is where we get stuck. The system can either use polyethylene tubing or pvc. PVC is ubiquitous, cheap and toxic. Just how toxic, I don’t know exactly, but I’ve never chewed on any pieces just to be on the safe side. PVC is toxic to manufacture as well. This makes polyethylene the more ecological approach. But it is very hard to find in the size we need for the greywater system. And you have to buy a minimum amount- about 250 feet is the smallest we have found so far. For my yard, we probably only need about 40 feet. Plus, you have to mail order it. If we go the pvc route, it would cost far less and we could buy all the pieces at the local hardware store. We also want the system to be replicable so that we can share it with others and encourage them to use greywater. Searching for the parts for the polyethylene version is confusing – pvc is easy and accessible. This is the challenge. So what do people think- should we go with pvc or polyethylene?

Mr. Homegrown here. So I just found a local source for 1-inch polyethylene: Aqua-Flo. Cost is in the neighborhood of 33¢ a foot depending on how much you get. It comes in 20 foot and 100 foot lengths. So I think we’re gonna go with polyethylene. Incidentally, when I called Aqua-Flo they asked if I was going to make hula hoops.


A correction and update 7/25/09: The Aqua-Flo branch I went to does not have black 1-inch HDPE tubing in stock. Other branches have it, but only in 500 foot rolls that cost over $300. A roll that long would make sense for a contractor, but for DIY greywater installations it ain’t practical. Aqua-Flo does carry a new HDPE product called Blu-lock. You can get 1-inch Blu-lock in-100 foot rolls for a reasonable price (more info to follow in another post). Blu-lock uses special proprietary fittings that are easier to assemble than conventional mainline drip tubing and, intriguingly, allow for disassembly. I’m going to test Blu-lock and will report back on the results.

Washing Machine Greywater Resources

Pantyhose filter

For those of you attending our Wednesday night greywater workshop at Good and for those of you who can’t, here’s a list of resources for using your washing machine as a irrigation source:

The New Create an Oasis with Greywater: Choosing, Building and Using Greywater Systemsby Art Ludwig. This is the bible of greywater. Follow Ludwig’s instructions and you can’t go wrong. Buy a copy via the link, and you’ll help support Homegrown Evolution.

Ludwig’s open source Laundry to Landscape system.

1″ polyethylene tubing–an alternative to PVC pipe.

Oasis Biocompatible detergent, the only laundry detergent we can find that’s appropriate for greywater use. It works great and, again, click through the link and we get a little support.

A selection of three way diverter valves. Note the 1″ brass model for laundry systems. Use these diverters to shift between sending your greywater outside or back to the sewer. Great if you have to do a load of diapers. We don’t have one, but we’re both cheap and kinda extreme.

A local Los Angeles source for drums, the Apex Drum Company: www.apexdrum.com. Phone number: (323) 721-8994. Located at 6226 Ferguson Drive in the picturesque city of Commerce. You can also scavange drums, but make sure they didn’t have nasty chemicals in them. See our greywater surge tank post for what kind of barrel we like to use. Note that you can also turn a surge tank into a rain barrel.

A description of our greywater fruit mini-orchard.

Our greywater surge tank version 1.0. We’ve since added a pantyhose filter as seen above to catch lint that can clog the tank and garden hose. It’s just some threaded ABS waste pipe fittings screwed together with used pantyhose.

A liquid fertilizer of the type that you could add to your greywater surge tank during a wash cycle to fertilize your garden. You could also get a fish emulsion or sea kelp based liquid fertilizer from your local nursery.

Oaktown’s Greywater Guerrillas, another source for inspiration.

Greywater Workshop at Good Magazine

We’ll be doing a greywater workshop at Good Magazine this Wednesday May 27th from 7 to 9 p.m. Directions and RSVP info are here.

We’re going to focus on what I consider to be the easiest way to reuse your greywater: hacking your washing machine. We’ll take a look at a couple of approaches including our surge tank, pictured above, which we just got around to elevating with scrap lumber to get a gravity assist. We’ll also look at Art Ludwig’s direct “laundry to landscape” system.

Topics will also include:

  • Greywater compatible detergents
  • Choosing the best plants for greywater
  • Creating mulch basins
  • Greywater dos and don’ts
  • Plumbing parts
  • Water conservation and efficiency
  • Greywater cocktails (just kidding)

Hope to see you all tomorrow!

Make a Rain Barrel

There’s a lot of advice floating around the internets about how to make a rain barrel. Most barrel pundits suggest drilling a hole in the bottom of a barrel and installing a faucet, a kind of connection called a “bulkhead fitting”. Unfortunately such improvised fittings have a tendency to leak. My favorite way to make a rain barrel is to take a 55 gallon drum, use the preexisting fittings on the top and turn it upside down, a process explained nicely here (complete with a list of parts), by B. Chenkin who will also sell you a kit at Aquabarrel.com.

To get started, you get a ubiquitous 55 gallon drum with two threaded “bung” holes that look like this:

A good source for this kind of barrel is your local car wash. Just make sure that the barrel you scavenge didn’t have nasty chemicals in it. You punch out the center of one of the bungs, as shown, and insert a threaded PVC fitting. A few more PVC parts from the sprinkler section of your hardware store, a brass hose fitting with a valve, and you’ll have this:


Glue that up with some PVC cement, wrap the threads with teflon tape, and you’re almost ready to collect rainwater. But first, turn the barrel upside down, drill a hole for the down spout another hole to insert an overflow pipe made out of a threaded 3″ waste pipe fitting:

The last step is to prop the barrel up on some wood or concrete blocks to give some clearance for your hose connection and some extra elevation for a gravity assist to help push the water through a garden hose.

The overflow connection is another reason I like Chenkin’s design. It’s important to keep rainwater away from your foundation especially when, like us, you live on a hill. The picture at top shows our barrel installed with the overflow pipe connected to a pipe that runs down to the street. Los Angeles’ building code required us to run our rainwater out to the street, where it helps wash pollution into the LA River and the ocean (see creekfreak for more on LA’s pesky water issues). At least we’ll be channeling some of that water, via the barrel, to our new fruit trees. Those of you with flat yards could simply connect up an overflow pipe that would take the water at least ten feet from the foundation.

In Southern California, where rain never falls between May and October, a 55 gallon drum won’t meet much of our irrigation needs, though Chenkin’s design does allow you to chain multiple barrels together. What we really need is an enormous cistern, something with a capacity in the neighborhood of around 10,000 gallons. Ideally houses here, as in the ancient Roman world, would have been built with huge underground holding tanks. A small rain barrel like this makes more sense for those of you who live in places with rain throughout the year, where a small amount of collected rainwater could be used to bridge a gap in rainstorms. I put this rain barrel together as a test and because I was tired of looking a blue drum that sat in the backyard for a year giving our patio a methamphetamine lab vibe.

Again, for complete instructions and a list of parts visit Chenkin’s ehow page or, if you’re not adept at perusing the isles of the local hardware store, buy a kit from him through Aquabarrel.

[Editors note: due to spamming (are rain barrel enthusiasts really that excited about internet pharmaceuticals?) we've had to shut down comments for this post.]