After experimenting with solar panels, gray-water systems and chickens for two years, a budget-minded consumer takes stock of what worked and what didn't.Read the full story in the LATimes
Gray water, 1st place
Gray water is the waste generated from faucets, showers and laundry machines — water that accounts for 54.2% of all water used inside a home, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. With California deep into a drought, in August 2008 I retrofitted the plumbing on my laundry machine to send its gray water onto my landscape. Over the last two years, that simple switch has sent 9,720 gallons to passion fruit vines instead of the sewer, and it required only one change to my usual routine. I had to swap laundry detergents because my usual brand, like many, contained salt and other ingredients that kill plants.
When I first installed a gray-water system, it wasn't legal. Making it legal would have required a permit, extensive filtering apparatus and lots of cash. But in August 2009, these laundry-to-landscape systems were legalized in California, as long as homeowners followed 12 guidelines.
I've been so pleased with this low-cost, high-impact system that I hired a plumber to expand it in January, tying the wastewater from my bathtub, shower and bathroom sink into the same gravity-fed plumbing line that handles my laundry water. This so-called simple system also was legalized in California in 2009. Its legal status has since been rescinded, so once again I've gone rogue. I estimate my additional savings to be roughly 1,120 gallons per month.
Financially, this system is paying for itself, just slowly. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power charges me less than half a penny per gallon, so technically, gray water has saved me only $95 in water costs so far. But it's also reduced my sewer charge by about one-third, saving me an extra $3.30 per month. In drought-prone Southern California, gray water feels like the right thing to do. It's been the easiest, most sensible, hassle-free, sustainable system I've put in place at my house.
Cost: $1,988 ($312 for the laundry-to-landscape plumbing, $1,676 for bathtub and bathroom sink tie-in)
Resources: Greywater Action, http://www.greywateraction.org; Oasis Design, oasisdesign.net