An interesting piece of legislation is winding its way through the hearings stage in our state. California AB 2282 will require recycled water infrastructure for new residential and nonresidential construction. So-called “graywater” systems recycle waste water from showers, baths, lavatories and washing machines for non-potable purposes such as toilet flushing and lawn sprinkling. Since 2010 the California Plumbing Code has allowed the installation of residential graywater plumbing. AB 2282 in its current proposed form will require it in newly constructed homes and buildings.
The purpose of course is water conservation. The potential for water savings from graywater recycling is enormous. Studies have shown that somewhere around 60% of household water use ends up as potentially reusable graywater, amounting to around 25 gallons each day per person. A family of four may produce enough graywater to water more than 2,400 sq. ft. of lawn and garden.
The stuff that flushes down your toilet and into the sewer is referred to as “blackwater.” Although it is technically feasible to purify blackwater all the way to potability – astronauts drink recycled urine, after all – it requires advanced technology, and politicians tend to shy away because of the “ick” factor. The water recycling law being proposed would not utilize blackwater.
Hearings on AB 2282 were scheduled for September 30, to give a chance for plumbing manufacturers and other stakeholders to clarify technical details. It’s unclear exactly when the law will take effect but it almost certainly will in the next year or two.
The proposed legislation wouldn’t apply to existing homes, simply because it’s expensive and impractical to retrofit graywater systems in most dwellings. For instance, if your home is built on a slab foundation, most drain pipes are buried beneath the concrete slab and that would require very expensive work to break through the concrete to install new piping. Keep in mind that separate pipes are needed to assure that non-potable graywater does not mix with the pure drinking water that comes from your faucets. (While graywater is not permitted for potable use, plumbing codes err on the side of caution in allowing only recycled graywater that is reasonably safe if ingested accidentally.)
If your home is built on a raised foundation, a plumber generally can access fixture drains via a crawl space and make graywater connections. The more fixtures you include in the graywater collection system, the more graywater you will have for landscape watering. If you are building a new home or doing an extensive home remodeling project, you may want to consider including graywater piping in the plan.
The most common home graywater systems involve diverting washing machine water to landscaping. That’s because most washing machines are located near an outside wall or in a garage, which makes them relatively simple to connect to an outdoor sprinkler system.
The upfront costs can be expensive, but that must be weighed against water savings and healthy greenery for years to come. Factor in that your water rates are likely to keep going up. Also consider the likelihood that severe water restrictions as we witnessed during the recent drought are likely to become common practice in our area. Recycled water may be the only way to salvage the flowers and foliage that give you so much pleasure around your home.
Call us to see if a recycling system is viable for your home.