Bay Area residents find uses for greywater amid ongoing drought

BERKELEY, Calif. (KTVU) - A load of laundry uses 15-20 gallons of water, while the average 10 minute shower takes 25 gallons

Now, with the drought, many homeowners are looking at ways to re-use the water that usually goes down the drain.

Phyllis Rothman washes about four loads of laundry a week, and when she does, a mundane chore becomes a water-saving tool.

She's doing her part, with a system called, Laundry to Landscape.

She and a group of 20 volunteers from the Berkeley Ecology Center built it themselves in one afternoon.

A three-way valve diverts the laundry water to a pipe out into her yard. A blue pipe, buried about six inches under the ground, connects to six "containers" where the soapy water pools up. Then, a pipe, pump, and gravity disperse the water from those containers to a drip irrigation system.

"It's got a little spigot that you can control the flow," Rothman said, demonstrating the faucets spouting water into the six containers.

Rothman did have to switch to a bio-degradable laundry detergent. Laundry to Landscape water cannot be used to water root vegetables and leafy green vegetables, but all other types of vegetation are OK. Rothman says overall, the project was easy.

"I am not mechanical at all and even I understood it," Rothman said.

Laundry to Landscape is one of the simplest grey water projects a homeowner can do. Homeowners don't need a permit or a contractor, and Rothman estimates the whole project cost her about $500.

"They have do-it-yourself PDF's you can download," said B. Tondre, contractor co-founder of DIG Cooperative, and Eco Design and Green Contracting company based in Oakland.

Tondre and DIG Cooperative install advanced grey water irrigation systems that divert shower, sink and laundry water to outdoor landscaping.

"People want to know what they can do at their home," Tondre said. "Each home is different."

Homeowners do need a permit for a household, or combined grey water system. The cost can range from $5,000-20,000.

Tondre said a combined grey water system saves a lot more water than a simple laundry system – as much as 100 gallons a day for a family of four.

He said concern about the drought, and the real estate boom in the Bay Area, has triggered a lot of interest.

"People buying homes want to upgrade their homes and their bathrooms," he said.

DIG Co-op gets about a dozen inquiries about grey water installation every week, triple what they experienced a year ago.

Tondre said even if a renovation budget doesn't include a complete grey water installation, it's a good idea to install a three-way valve in a newly renovated bathroom for future projects. Installing a valve adds about $200-$300 to a renovation budget.

"Water scarcity is going to be a continuing issue," Tondre said.

Rothman is happy with her more budget-friendly option. She estimates she re-uses about 80 gallons of water a week funneling her laundry water to her garden.

"Everything we do impacts the bigger picture," she said. Even the ordinary things - like laundry.