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!


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  1. Quick Question: why does the new piping system not get clogged with hair compared to the old system? Does the hair flush more easily out into the garden?
    I ask because we also have a drain-clogging problem and also want to do a gray water set-up for our shower, which is also next to the garden, but the clogging comment confused me.

  2. Also, could I do this with kitchen as well as laundry? Or would meat scraps in the kitchen sink pose problems? I recently moved our washer/dryer into the house (it was in a wash house) and I ran a long 15′ drain pipe from the washer to the main drainage pipe. Instead, I could run it outside, but, and I guess I dont understand this fully, wouldnt the soapy solution harm fruits and veggies? We do use an all natural soap (cal-ben 5 star soap) as opposed to store bought junk.

  3. Hey 1916,

    Greywater can’t be stored. It turns into rancid smelling sewage very quickly. I’m speaking form experience here–our washing machine surge tank clogged up once and the stuff was nasty after just a day. The smell is because of the millions of skin cells we all exude, fyi, which quickly cause the growth of bacteria. The best way to handle greywater is to send it straight into mulch basins to peculate into the soil. The benficial organisms in the soil take care of the rest.

    As for the kitchen sink, personally, I wouldn’t use it without sending it through a constructed wetland first (google that and you’ll see some examples). The food gunk–especially meats and oils–are more challenging to deal with. Start with your shower, bathroom sink and washing machine. Good luck!

  4. i noticed that you didn’t mention capping the sewer line. please tell me that you didn’t leave the line open under your house, allowing sewer gas into your home. this can be very dangerous to your health!

  5. ben here:

    yeah, i capped the sewer line….right where i cut off the old plumbing. hope that is ok…seemed to be fine.

    about the clogging:

    i think our clog problem was a result of the combination of having a grimy p-trap in the shower drain and slow slab sewage. the toilet flushes fine, but the sink sometimes has a hard time draining. i dunno, i’m not very experienced. but the ad-hoc drain in the post has served us just fine. we switched to castille soap, so maybe that’s helping… the squash seem to like it!

  6. Thanks for the reply. My front yard of grass, which is small and has no sprinkler system is difficult to keep alive in the summer heat here in Southern California. I might consider running a grey water line straight to the front yard to an underground mulch basin. And hopefully in the process I can convince wifey to grow an edible front yard. We already got some fruit trees and berry bushes in the front, she is just worried how the neighbors will react to garlic growing 🙂

    Ahhh what the heck, Im buying your book!

  7. We would love to do this, but since we are blow freezing 4-5 months out of the year, we need to figure out how to switch back to standard drain during those months. Either way, great work!

  8. Great work on the plumbing and layout. Though you might want to add a P-trap to your system. Not to keep out gasses, as it is not connected to the sewer line, but to keep from losing your AC slash heat. You would be surprised to know how much you lose even through a 2-inch hole.

  9. In freezing climates you’d have to set up a system to divert the water back into the sewer line during the winter months. Also, I wonder if insects such as spiders would travel up the drain into the house. I don’t mind insects as long as I don’t have to share space with them.

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