So How Does One Do Greywater In The Suburbs?

So How Does One Do Greywater In The Suburbs?

No easy answers

Do you remember how we first got interested in grey water? Fear of the municipal account. Do you remember what made me realise it wasn’t going to be as easy as ‘pour it into a 25l drum and relax’? Fear of the hospital account! That drum smelled dangerously foul. The water went down the drain and I got started on an information hunt.

Sifting through all the information and misinformation on the internet took hours but I am grateful I did it. I happened upon this site and found excerpts from the book Create an Oasis with Grey Water by Art Ludwig. Art is an ecological systems designer with 35 years full-time experience in water, among other things. He seems honest and his information is free and complicated. No easy answers here! Which makes me trust what he says.

Art does not know I exist and I am definitely not earning anything from this post. I just want to share what I learned.

Screenshot from Art's website

Don't store greywater more than a day

Firstly, I learned that it is best not to store grey water for more than a day. The bad microbes in the water multiply making the water smelly and oxygen poor. A system that drains completely as soon as the water is cold, gives maximum benefit.

'24 hours is generally considered the prudent maximum time for storage. Since this is not enough time to, for example, store grey water from a time when irrigation is not needed to one in which it is, I find myself tuning designs to eliminate pooled grey water anywhere it occurs; just send it all straight to the soil. The fewer little anaerobic corners and pockets the better. My latest designs drain COMPLETELY…all the collection plumbing, distribution plumbing, and surge tanks (if any) slope at least 2% across their bottom surfaces.'

He carries on saying that in the case of treated grey water it could be stored longer. That means that if you use Mrs Martin’s HAND and BODY (or any of the other Mrs Martin’s products, for that matter) and collect the water from your basin, you could store it for longer before using it in your garden. The beneficial microbes in the soap will retard the process in which pathogenic or ‘bad’ microbes multiply and make the water black. I invite you to try : we have several clients who say their systems stopped stinking after switching to our detergents!

Don't expect to save money

Secondly, we will probably not be saving a lot of money. Good clean water is still cheap in South Africa.

A typical residential greywater system will save $5-$20 worth of freshwater a month, at best. (Update: That seemed like a small amount three years ago when this post was first written, but now at the end of 2020 $20 is R300 – who would not mind to save that per month?)

It could, however, make all the difference to your garden in a time of drought like we are experiencing now. If you are not allowed to irrigate your garden, using your greywater safely may save your plants! Just don’t use it on your azaleas or hydrangeas as acid-loving plants don’t appreciate greywater.

The simpler, the better

Thirdly, the simpler the system the better. Art goes as far as to say that the moment a pump is involved you might have a net negative influence on the environment due to the cost of materials, manufacturing and electricity needed. He sees something as simple as a bucket as a grey water system.

Toilets can be flushed with grey water by simply bucketing it from the bathtub/shower directly into the toilet bowl (not the tank, where it will fester). An added plus of reusing bathtub water in this way is that due to flush volume always being under direct intelligent control it is always less. Also, in cold climates you get a primitive but highly effective sort of greywater heat recovery as the bath water sits there and heats the house as it cools.

It was after reading this last sentence that my efficiency instinct kicked in. I started to smile inwardly. Could it be that I could be heating my house this winter and gaining water for the garden AT THE SAME TIME?

Well, how I applied all my new-found knowledge, is for another post. Can’t wait to tell you!

Until then

House vs Rondawel – What We Love About Our Move

The house is bigger...

Which pros transpired from our recent move from midlands meandering to sectional title suburbanism? Well, shops are closer. And our house is bigger.

The house we left in the hills is a rondawel, a round hut among all the other round huts on the hills. Initially the hut had a ground floor only, but as the family grew it got a second storey. Have you ever seen a double storey rondawel?

Triple bunker for the children. Our bed was right behind the dry wall.
The play area in the children’s room was very small but well utilised!

All five of us would sleep upstairs in the cone thatched roof, basically, and clamber down a ladder every morning to the living area.

The ‘living area’ was kitchen, lounge and dining room, PLUS bathroom, all in one circle of 28 square meter. My three darling children grew up ascetic, see?

Yet the moment they set foot in a shop, they would come alive to all the brilliant possibilities of the stuff around them, and turn into relentless consumers. No-one taught them this. It just happened. And I find that although I am generally very good at saying no, I get tired and lose focus if every minute is filled with at least six “Please buy…” requests.

...and the shops are closer

So that is why shops should not be close, right? No! Living in the sticks means going shopping is a whole day’s affair and everyone tags along. I could never nip out to anywhere. It had to be planned, and prepped, and packed. After fifty minutes of horrendous mountain driving and many car sick groans we would eventually hit the coast and high way. Twenty minutes after that we would all peel out of the car, sticky and in need of the loo. Then we would be starting to look for a place to have the next meal – hey, the one we had before we left is already more than an hour ago and the kiddos are niggly. Hubby spent umpteen glorious mornings in Wimpy with a glazed over look on his face and a mega coffee in hand, while the children careened on the jungle gyms and I ran through the shops trying to tick something, SOMETHING off my list.

This time it seems he did not even get a coffee, but he is making the best of it!

Now I pop in and I pop out and by the time they realise I have gone I’m back with the goods. Painless.

A bigger house needs more furniture of course

About the bigger house. We still have a modest home. Three bedrooms two bathrooms isn’t massive for five people. But in the beginning it was absolutely cavernous for us. We all slept in the same room on Night One, huddling together a bit like sheep out in the open would. And like I told you previously we had precious few possessions with which to fill the space.

No curtains, nothing on the walls… and such a tiny couch!

I speak in past tense, however, because seven months down the line we shake our heads at everything we have already hoarded and how we have already, in several unguarded moments, dared to say the house was too small. Consumers!

But that is a story for another time.


And Here We Thought Greywater Was Easy!

The move we never want to repeat

In December 2016 we moved. We left the rolling green hills of Kwazulu Natal behind for a sectional title house in Pretoria. ‘There are pros and cons about everything,’ we told ourselves and braced for impact. We moved in on what must have been the hottest day in human history. Fortunately we had very few things to move really. We had no fridge and no kettle (that translates to neither Coke nor coffee…misery!) and no a whole list of other things as well. 

Sad fact 1

So when I got up from our krismisbed on that first morning and saw the sunrise through an electric fence instead of through the lacy leaves of an avocado orchard, I knew I had come face to face with Con Nr 1.

This used to be the view from our front door
Here's our current view from just about anywhere in the house

Sad fact 2

For a middle-aged couple with three darling children it is daunting to leave the loveliness of a community on a farm in the sticks. The life we lived there can hardly be called homesteading, but it certainly was idyllic. Hubby grew his own strawberries, and we had just about every kind of fruit tree in the tiny piece of the communal farm I could call our yard: two apple trees, an orange, a lemon, a grapefruit, a white guava, even a clementine! We kept one bee hive. I made my own cottage cheese from maas and brewed a fresh batch of yoghurt every evening. Hubby even had a go at making gouda and it worked! We had our worm farm in a box behind the house, we fed our azaleas rooibos tealeaves, I baked bread with real yeast and oh! …we never had to pay for water or electricity.

Enters Con Nr 2. In our new life, we feared these two accounts. We tackled the problem with gusto. On day four in our new home, every bulb in the house was replaced by LED bulbs. No matter that it cost more than R2000! We were doing our bit for the environment and counting how many cents we would be saving each night. It was incidentally also on day four that we discovered our greywater had turned foul…

Greywater really stinks

Hubby had us all bath in the same tub of water every evening and then scoop the (by then) really grey water into a 25l plastic drum. This was then lovingly dragged to the courtyard by the back door with the intention of later using the water to irrigate what was left of the drought stricken garden. When one of those drums were opened on day four, we realised it was not going to be as easy as that. It smelled rotten. In fact, it smelled dangerous. Mentally the cost of the municipal account was weighed up against the cost of a hospital stay and without further ado the water went down the drain.

So how do you do greywater in the suburbs?

This small episode kickstarted some research about greywater: why does it smell? Can the smell be avoided? How can it best be used in a suburban home inhabited by ‘normal’ people? If you have these questions, continue reading my blog because I will be answering them in later posts.

Although the drought has eased ever so slightly in Pretoria, vast parts of the country are still suffering. Have you been more successful in implementing a greywater system?