Over the last 100 years or so we have become very used to our plumbing. Turn on the tap and clean water appears. Flush the toilet and our solid waste disappears. Before the arrival of modern plumbing getting water could be difficult, it might require a great deal of effort and work just to make it suitable to drink.
As humans began to settle into larger clusters of towns and then cities it was essential to have a dependable supply of clean water. The Romans brilliantly devised aqueducts to bring fresh water from far away. They also had public baths that included something close to our modern toilets to remove human waste.
With the fall of the Roman Empire Western civilization fell into a backward progression for hundreds of years. The Middle Ages sometimes called the “Dark Ages” was noted as an extended period of demographic, cultural and economic deterioration. In the cities there was mostly squalor and hardship. Great plagues broke out periodically that would kill millions. This was due in part to sanitation. It is no coincidence that the cities were always located near rivers.
In medieval cities small canals would carry away human waste. London had its River Fleet and Paris built a covered “sewer” to control the smell. Availability of fresh water and the disposal of waste water were and still are the crucial factors in the size and livability of our cities today. Imagine any great city today – LA or New York without a dependable water supply. Imagine those same cities without reliable waste water disposal systems. So – no pipes, no civilization.
Today of course we are aware of how crucial water is. Drought and population growth make greater demands on our water resources. Collectively we have become more aware of our water use which brings forth methods of water conservation.
One means of water conservation has been the use of gray water for use outdoors generally for landscape irrigation. There are two types of gray water typically used for landscape: Laundry to Landscape (L2L) and Bath to Landscape (B2L).
With L2L the discharge hose that normally takes used laundry water to the drain (sewer) can be re-routed to take that laundry water outside for landscape. The mechanics of doing this are covered in Chapter 16A of the Plumbing Code. A two way value should be installed so that the discharged water can be directed outside or down the drain depending on preference which is determined by what is in the water. If it is just plain laundry water w/ acceptable soaps it can go outside. If washing diapers or other things w/ fecal matter it should go down the drain. People should be aware of what is being discharged outside.
Bath water including shower water (w/ plugged drain) can be used for outside watering again provided one is aware of what they are putting on the rose bushes and elm trees. (Root crops should not be watered with any gray water.) Re-plumbing your bathtub is not suggested as it would require a host of permits, inspections and is generally not acceptable to public officials. Plus it can be very expensive.
However there is no regulation against putting bath water on your petunias. Some people do this by carrying buckets of water outside. This can be difficult, cumbersome and a lot of work. Another method of moving your bath water would be siphoning it outside. Many people have discovered devices such as the SiphonAid™ as a means of getting bathwater outside.
This requires a little work but not as much as bucketing. A garden hose and a little practice to get the hang of it and you can direct your bath gray water to your thirsty plants.
An important thing to remember when diverting gray water from your drain is this. A given amount of your waste (gray) water is needed to move your household (human) waste down through the sewer line and out to the municipal lateral sewer lines to keep everything moving. How much waste water is needed is dependent on many factors in your house and the destination of your household waste water.
Every city municipality has design standards that are meant to keep “things” moving – as in moving through the sewer lines. Such things as minimum velocity, projected flows all factor into gallons per day (GPD) required to – as noted – keep “things” moving.
As such we must learn to think of household waste (gray) water in holistic terms, especially as we become more water conservation minded.
In the household we see two basic forms of gray water management. One is the manual methodologies such as turning off water while brushing teeth, not letting water run in the sink while wiping down the table and manually moving gray water outside by bucketing or siphoning. This is a mindfulness approach and we become more aware of our water use.
The other form of water conservation is the automatic or set functions such as low flow toilets and showerheads. An automatic function with gray water would be the laundry to landscape. It is easy to set the laundry water to go outside and forget about it.
It is good to keep in mind that gray water does not always have to go outside, i.e. rainy season or plants have been watered enough. A risk of the automatic setting is just forgetting about it. Who has not walked down the street in the rain and seen lawn sprinklers on – automatic!
This is not necessarily a bad thing but that water going outside when not needed would be better used keeping that flow rate up in your sewer line, right?
Q. I can’t get the siphon action started.
A. Every house and bath tub is unique as are other variables such as height of window ledge, height difference between bottom of the bath tub and outside ground level. Also there are an unknown number of tub faucet types and shapes.
The first thing to remember is that the principals of siphoning, given the proper conditions always work – it is the law of physics.
Now you want to siphon your bath/shower water. Good. First follow the simple instructions outlined previously. As shown in the siphon video you need to get more water in the hose going out the window where it is running downhill. This will create a force (caused by atmospheric pressure) that will pull more water in that direction. When priming this siphon action you will need to allow the proper time and
sufficient water to through the hose to get the siphoning started.
The SiponAid is simply that – an aid. Like any tool it must be used in the most efficient manner possible. Sometime there can be difficulty getting the SiphonAid to fit securely to the tub faucet. Some faucets like the short neck stubby may require the SiphonAid to be modified as seen in the opening video. Some faucets are extremely wide mouth that the SiphonAid will not fit over it. People then just hold the SiphonAid up firmly to the mouth of the faucet, tight enough and long enough to force some faucet water up and through the hose.
Also check the outside end of the hose. A kink in the hose will stop the siphon action.
Q. How often should one siphon bath/shower water?
A. That will depend on you. Sometimes a very short shower does not yield much water. It could be raining. Or the outside landscape doesn’t need the water today.
It is a fine balance best determined by you. In the section No Pipes, No Civilization – we can understand the importance of having household waste water, including some grey water, proceed down the sewer/septic lines – to keep “things” flowing. However this is not to say that you can’t divert some of the grey water to outside landscape.
Q. Can I siphon my bath/shower water onto the ground outside?
A. Yes. However the grey water flow should be into at least 2” of mulch. This prevents people and animals from coming into direct contact with it. Also if you are expending the effort to recycle your grey water it makes sense to conserve that water as best as possible and mulch is a very good way to do that. For more information on mulching see: http://www.doityourself.com/stry/why-mulch-6-benefits-of-mulching
Q. What if I get tired of siphoning the bath water?
A. That’s fine. Time and effort are all considerations. Some bathroom tools like the toilet plunger are not used every day. But likely you have one and when you need one, its really good to have on hand. There may be a once a week long soak in the tub for yourself or the kids. Then you will have a lot of grey water to share with your thirsty plants. Maybe up until now – you’ve been bucketing that water outside. Now you have a SiphonAid.
Q. What can I use my grey water on?
A. Unless you have a water softener that uses salt you can use grey water on any outside landscape with the exception of food crops, especially root foods such as carrots, beets – – . You must keep your grey water on your property and not let it run off into streets, sidewalks, elsewhere. Obey all local codes pertaining to grey water use.
Q. I can no longer use my SiphonAid (for whatever reason).
A. Gift it to a friend or neighbor. Even if you can no longer use the SiphonAid (moved, no tub, whatever – – -) you can still save water indirectly by helping someone else save water.
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