Considering a Water Recycling or Collection System? What Are Your Best Options?

Posted on: 1 April 2016

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Whether you live in a drought-prone area and are required to ration water during hot weather or are simply trying to reduce your home's water consumption to lower your utility costs, you may be considering installing a water recycling and rainwater collection system in your home. With the average American family using 400 gallons of water each day, reducing your water consumption by installing water-efficient appliances and reusing your "grey water" can significantly cut this number, while installing a rainwater collection and purification system can help you further diminish your reliance on public water supplies.

Read on to learn more about the steps you can take to reduce your water consumption after you've already invested in low-flow shower heads, toilets, faucets, and other fixtures.

Recycle your home's grey water

Grey water (or the water produced from bathing, doing laundry, washing dishes, and using the sink) can often be collected and recycled as non-potable water. Although this water may have traces of dirt, hair, and grease in it, it won't contain urine, feces, or most other pathogen-carrying waste. You'll then be able to use this recycled grey water to water your lawn and even flush your toilets, eliminating the need to use fresh water for these activities.

The simplest grey water collection systems use gravity to simply pipe this water outside into an irrigation system. Those with some plumbing experience should be able to install a simple laundry drum or drain that allows you to pump your wash wastewater directly outside, either manually moving a flexible hose to water plants or creating an underground irrigation system with PVC pipe. To pump water from your showers, you'll use a branched drain to pipe this water from your shower drain to a mulched area downhill.

Installing grey water recycling systems in houses without a downhill slope is also possible—however, you'll likely need to install a central collection basin in your basement or crawlspace beneath your drains and use a pump to pipe this water outdoors.

Collect rainwater from your roof

If you live in an area that doesn't regularly receive a large amount of rainfall even during non-drought times and have a roof that isn't conducive to a roof-wide collection system, you may not want to focus on collecting water in this manner; the initial cost of replacing your roof and installing collection gutters is unlikely to be recouped considering the small amount of water you're likely to collect each year.

However, if you live in an area with moderate rainfall, you may be able to combine existing water conservation efforts with a rainwater collection system to further reduce or even eliminate your reliance on public water, allowing you to live "off the grid." Homes with galvanized metal roofs and gutters are ideal for rainwater collection systems, as they are easy to clean, provide great drainage, and are less likely than many other types of roofing materials to become contaminated with environmental pollutants or leach chemicals into the rainwater as it passes over the surface.

While they may seem like unlikely contender, asphalt or rubber roofing shingles can also be good materials for rainwater collection. Because of the slightly uneven surface of asphalt and rubber roofing tiles, they're less likely than some other materials to accumulate soot from auto exhaust or bonfires, fecal particles from nearby farms, and other harmful contaminants, allowing for pure water runoff. You'll still want to invest in galvanized steel rain gutters to pipe your roof runoff into a plastic storage barrel for later purification, as plastic or aluminum gutters may affect the quality of the water you collect.