How do I recycle greywater in the winter?

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Urban Garden Greywater by Craig DietrichCC BY 2.0
We are in the process of buying our first house. Due to some boring logistics, we will probably end up placing the washing machine in the garage. The problem is that there is no drain there, and it's cost prohibitive to install one right now. Our solution is to recycle the greywater from the wash.

In the summer we will use it to water the lawn (especially since we are in a desert climate and don't want to use precious fresh water for that purpose). However, in the winter the temperature drops below freezing, and we don't really need an ice skating rink in our back yard. We've thought about using the grey water to flush the toilet, but carrying five gallon buckets of water through the house to the bathroom seems like (a) a lot of work and (b) very unwelcoming for guests.

What ideas do you have for recycling greywater in the winter? -Allison

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  1. Could you put some sort of container to store it until time for use in the garage? I'm thinking like a modified rain barrel set up where you would then have sufficient water pressure to water the plants with a hose. This would probably need emptied over the course of the winter, and that I have yet to think of a solution for….besides lugging water inside for plants and toilets, which doesn't solve much….

    This is also based on the assumption that you garage has enough heat to keep a container from freezing, which would be necessary for water lines to a washer….. If you manage to run a washer all winter without a heater let me know! I have a hard enough time keeping my washer in my laundry room from freezing in the winter!

    • I advise against this. The water goes stagnant and the suds will build up, settling out and getting super gross. You can add a bit of bleach to lengthen the time the water's usable, but it'd possibly become a grass killer. I really think the best option is a laundromat (or if the boring logistics are that there IS a drain somewhere in the house where you don't want the washer, maybe move it there just for winter.) You could reuse the greywater from low-soil loads, but I'm still thinking it's going to be a LOT of water hanging around.

      Also, I'm assuming you've done the research on greywater, but some reminders: Don't let it run off from your yard–it becomes a pollutant to local waterways! Rotate out with fresh water to ensure sodium doesn't build up! Don't use fabric softener and use biodegradable detergent that's low/nil on sodium salts!

      11 agree
  2. I hate to bring this up, but putting a washer somewhere where there is no drain may be against the local building codes for plumbing. You might want to check what the codes are in your area. Having things in your house that are not up to code will make selling it more challenging if you ever want to do so in the future. Granted, you could just take out the washer if you choose to sell the house, so this would be an easy one to fix later.

    7 agree
  3. We're in a similar situation. We bought a fixer upper, and currently have our kitchen all pulled apart (like, it's just an empty room). We have a utility sink in the basement hooked up to a water line, but no drain. So, we just drain our dishwater into a bucket and dump it outside to water the new lawn. We use Dawn dishsoap because it's biodegradable.

    It hadn't occurred to me until just now…what if we don't have the kitchen complete before winter? Are we going to be making a big icy mess of our lawn? Oh boy…

    • How many dishes do you wash at a time? I've been without a kitchen sink before and we just did them in the bathroom. If the sink icks you out, just use a large stockpot for the sudsy water and rinse them with the tub faucet. Not the most convenient, but it'll get you through a season.

      1 agrees
      • We used to wash dishes in the bathroom sink of our dorm… It works out fine as long as you're not washing big chunks of anything down your drain.

        • I grew up in a house without a disposal. Food scraps that couldn't get put into the compost pile (or when we didn't have a compost pile) got flushed down the toilet.

  4. I don't have any good suggestions about recycling graywater, unfortunately. We don't have an official drain, but we live on a hill, so even in winter our gray water just goes out into the meadow by our house and trickles away before freezing. We have our drain a ways away from where we tend to walk around in winter, so we've never had a problem with ice buildup. Of course, we often have 2-3 feet of snow in the winter, so who knows whats going on underneath that!

    But in regards to the laundry dilemma, have you considered a portable washer? A portable washer is much smaller and can fit in smaller places than a full sized one, and it hooks up to a normal sink faucet so you don't need washer hookups. It can even be stored in a closet or corner, and wheeled out to near the sink when in use (hence, portable). To drain, they have a line that you can just stick in the sink (or in a bucket for watering the lawn in the summer, or flushing the toilet, etc). They handle smaller loads than a full sized, but use less water and electricity, too. I've been researching in the hope of gaining laundry independence in my own house.

    Some comparisons here: http://portable-washing-machine.toptenreviews.com/

    1 agrees
  5. As far as using it to flush, my family used greywater to flush by pouring it directly in the bowl so that we don't end up with build-up in the tank on the moving parts. That way your guests can just flush as normal, even if you typically use greywater. If you're going to do that, I would suggest a system that rolls, so you can roll it between the bathroom and the washer.

  6. Please do not store gray water. It is dangerous as stuff will be living in it.

    The only person i know of that lived off of the grid as far as water went had some land. He had a a filter coming off his roof and then it went into a dam (hole in ground with water in it) the damn had some kind of filtering, it was set up to be naturally filtered.

    You can do the same thing for grey water because he would of. But it would take some investment in time.

    Good luck!

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