Graywater Systems

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi, with the continuing drought, we want to do as much as possible to save water. We are thinking of: laundry-to-landscape, shower-to-landscape, and rainwater catchment.  Has anyone had any or all of these done, and would you recommend the company that you hired to install them?  What was entailed, and about what was the cost?  Appreciate any guidance (for hiring, and what to ask - we would not be doing the setup ourselves). Thanks!

    Hi! We just had a shower-to-landscape system installed by Greywater Landscape Design ( and I would recommend them. Joseah was very responsive via email, quick to schedule a time to come out and consult on our property, and thorough in answering all our questions. I really enjoyed working with him and learned a lot in the process. The whole system cost ~$4500 and it includes 17 basins throughout our property with independent valves so you can really control where the water is going. The whole installation only took one day and they didn't harm any existing plants in the process. The crew was very friendly and professional. Of course, it's so dry out here that now we are looking into rainwater catchment, as well. But we wanted to start with greywater since that is water we are using already. You can find more referrals for installers on the greywater action website. I'm happy to talk by phone if you have more questions, feel free to message me -- and good luck! This is such a worthwhile project to take on right now. 

    I just set laundry to landscape up at my house, still actually in process. It was pretty straightforward, there are q bunch of books (waterwise home) and YouTube videos to help. There’s also a list of installers on the Greywater guerrillas website. 

    Re all the plants dying:

    Most soaps and detergents are sodium-based, and sodium is toxic to plants.  In addition, sodium salts react chemically with many kinds of clay in a way that really messes up drainage. (We did an experiment with this in soil-science class, and a little salt water turned my drains-okay sample into impermeable goo.) Once the sodium has gotten stuck to the clay minerals, it won't leach out.

    If sodium caused the neighbor's dead plants, an effective solution is application of garden gypsum -- this is a natural mineral that has the effect of replacing the sodium with calcium (via the magic of cation exchange), thus fixing the drainage issue, and isn't toxic to plants. (if they were native plants, they may have died because of overwatering.)

    To use graywater without sodium means using sodium-free soaps, which means either Dr. Bronner liquid soap (not their bar soap) or Oasis biocompatible soaps ( -- Oasis dish soap is available at Berkeley Bowl.  These soaps contain potassium rather than sodium, and potassium is a plant nutrient. Potassium and sodium are both monovalent cations, and potassium can still affect clay soils much like sodium, so I would still occasionally apply gypsum.

  • Hi All, 

    We live in West Berkeley and are looking for someone (not sure if this would be a plumber, handyperson, landscaper, or other specialty) who can advise/consult and also complete a laundry graywater system for us (i.e., redirecting water from the washer out to the backyard to water plants/return to groundwater).  Please send recommendations for anyone you know who has experience with this type of work, can take on a small-ish project (i.e., this would be worth it for them), can advise on drainage considerations, and is responsive via email.  Thanks in advance. 

    Go to Greywater Action!!! We have had amazing experience with Christina Bertea. Years ago we hosted a workshop and people came and helped us put in our washing machine grey water system, at the same time learning for themselves how to do it. Years later Christina came back and put in another system from our bathtub. Extremely knowledgeable and professional. Our garden is lush because of it and we feel good knowing we are doing a little more for the earth. Definitely do it asap!

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Laundry with a Grey Water System?

April 2015

My spouse is very interested in hiring someone to set up a grey water system that uses our washing machine water to hydrate our fruit tress. This sounds like a great idea to me, in theory, but I'm curious to hear from others who have something similar. As the person responsible for all of the laundry in the house (3 adults and 2 toddlers), I am particularly curious to know if any of the approved detergents for these types of systems actually get the clothes clean! Thank you in advance! I love recycling, but also love my Spray and Wash

Congrats for considering a greywater system! It seems so important for us to find ways like this to conserve, given our current situation! We installed a ''laundry to landscape'' system as our first greywater project, and it was super, super easy. We also have 3 adults and 2 young kids. The best kind of detergent is called ''Oasis'' and can be purchased at Berkeley Bowl etc... it is pretty expensive, but does work for both the trees and the clothes. We've also tried ''soap nuts'' which are a bit more economical, but I feel like they dont' get things quite as clean. (We do sometimes use them, and when we combine this with hanging the laundry, instead of using the drier, it feels like they come out pretty clean.) You can look on line for details about how to install a system like this, or there is a new book called The Water-Wise Home by Laura Allen that has a lot of great detailed info. happy waterer

Hi we,ve had a grey water system for a couple of years now.We water our yard and fruit trees with both laundry and bathwater and it works great.Our yard is blooming and green and lush and we don,t waste the water.As far as laundry detergent I feel they are all good.Even Costco has laundry detergent now that works with grey water system and I have no problems getting the laundry clean. good luck no water waste

I used Oasis when we were doing grey water and it worked as well as any other regular detergent we used when we had a regular laundry system. If you need to use something strong to get stains out, just rinse it out of the clothes before washing them. Here is more info: Anon

Installer - greywater and drain pipe heat recovery

August 2014

Hi. We'd like to have a greywater system put in from our washing machine out to our yard. Also, we're looking to install a drain pipe heat recovery unit. (transfers heat lost down the drain to heat cold water being used in the shower) Anyone that you can recommend who can do these two simple projects? Could be the same person or different people.
hoping to be a more responsible water / energy user

I too have ecolusted for greyH2O systems. Now settle for a 1/8 hp submersible pump, a hose, and a bucket. All shower/bath water is used 1) to flush toilet via bucket, 2) to use to wash floors etc. by bucket or 3) to pump into (top loader) washing machine for the 1st wash cycle. If a bather is ill, we use H20 to irrigate ornamentals.

We're a family of 3 with a shower crazy teen girl and frequent visitors. We live in a 2 bd 1 bth Berk. hills 1 story house with deck & sm veg garden. Pump & laundry electricity is offset by solar panels (installed after Enron). We hand water our edibles. We've averaged 60 gal/day for many years. Good luck! Andrea

Grey Water Systems - where to find customers?

July 2014

Hi, I am looking for suggestions on how to market installing grey water systems to folks who want to do it. My husband, who works in construction, has created/installed grey water systems for some friends, and others through word-of-mouth, but is at a loss as to how to go about finding others who want one. We both think during this time of severe drought, it would be easy to find those who would want one, but we can't figure out how to tap into that pool! Craig's list maybe? Maybe local nurseries?? Thanks in advance for any suggestions! Grey water system anyone?

Funny you should ask! I recently went on Craigslist to find someone to do a BASIC laundry grey water system at my house and found surprisingly few people offering that service. Greywater Action will list installers who have completed their course, but of those I emailed most did not return my email, and the ones that did were installing systems in the $1500+ range (starting with ''soil percolation tests.'') I'm looking for a under $500 job, basically a valve on my washing machine and some PVC pipe/hose to take it to a yard ten feet away. If that's what your husband offers, I suggest he post on Craigslist, I'd hire him in a minute! Sue

Hi. I recently wanted to find someone who provides this service and went to yelp. I found almost no one and felt frustrated so I think if he listed there he might get calls, since there would be basically no competition. Yelper

I think craigslist is a great way to start. It's free. In my area I see people advertising rain water collections systems all the time in the farm and garden section. Spend some time taking good photos and crafting a professional ad. Ask your friends what their concerns would be about such a system (ease of installation, whether it's suitable for renters, cost, how it's used, etc.) to make sure your ad addresses them. Don't be afraid to do a long ad (300-400 words). Then be sure to repost frequently so your ad is always present. If you notice that you get more calls on certain days of the week, such as the weekend, be sure that your repost schedule includes that day so your ad is always on top of the pile and ''fresh.'' Other folks might have suggestions for other venues (local ''green'' festivals, perhaps?) but craigslist seems like a no-brainer. I was just thinking yesterday how much I wish I had a gray water system. I'm sure the timing is excellent for this! good luck

Interestingly, a few months ago I was actively searching for grey water installers. Looked online first, Google and Yelp specifically and (only) found the Urban Farmer Store in Richmond. They have services and sell equipment, but couldn\xc3\xa2\xe2\x82\xac\xe2\x84\xa2t quite meet my specific needs. Perhaps you can ask to leave your flyers at their store. Or connect with other non-profit organizations that have community gardens,etc. If you are interested in residential work only, then perhaps a past client can recommend him on BPN. Also, perhaps a table at one of the farmer\xc3\xa2\xe2\x82\xac\xe2\x84\xa2s market or street fairs, like the Albany Stroll would be a great way to network. I\xc3\xa2\xe2\x82\xac\xe2\x84\xa2m just throwing out places I would have seen you or looked. Sending flyers in the mail would also get my attention. I know there is a demand for this service!

Maybe a combination of having a website and networking with other contractors. I would think that leading workshops might be a really good way to advertize, with the idea that people come and learn about the process in a (1 hour?) seminar which give pros and cons of different systems, and then you can either consult with other contractors/plumbers or do installation. rital

How bout the urban farmer store? The have a lot of irrigation and water holding supplies and might be able to help. Or offer an informational workshop at the biofuel oasis? Merritt college has a robust permaculture program which might also have some good leads. What about getting a folding table at the farmers market to hand out brochures and a card? And gardening centers seem worth approaching as well. If it's ok with the moderator, I wish you could post his info here! I'd like to see if we can at least switch our laundry to greywTer for our fruit trees, and would love to get in touch with someone who's had experience! Good luck Garden fan

Forgot to mention, is a GREAT place to market contractor services. You can even post images of your work.

2008 - 2011 Reviews

August 2008

I'm looking into gray water system. Does anyone know of a plumber who installs those? Or any other advice about it. Oren

The Ecology Center in Berkeley has information on their website & runs workshops at Berkeley's Eco House (Hopkins & Peralta) about grey water systems & the permitted system installed at the Eco House. Check it out at There was also a feature article in a recent East Bay Express, ''Kill Your Plumbing: The Greywater Guerrillas say it's time to use less water.'' See

I purchased (3) graywater systems that connect to your sink drain and transfer water through a filter and into your toilet tank. I love the idea, but was not able to use them on our remodel due to limited space constraints. You can review the system at These retail for $295.00 but I am willing to sell for only $125.00. rebecca

Start here: We are very fortunate in the Bay Area to have many active people willing to forgo the restrictive plumbing code and make things happen. You can visit the Eco House in Berkeley to see a successful gray water garden, and participate in a Guerillas workshop to learn how to do it yourself. If you want to go the permitted way, you can talk to Water Sprout ( who installed the Eco House one. Good luck. You're doing the right thing. Noemie

Try They installed the first permitted greywater system in Berkeley, which includes a small constructed wetland at the Berkeley Eco House. They offer a tour of that system if you want to learn more about it. You can get info at the Berkeley Ecology Center website. Claudia

My husband and I made a do-it-yourself gray water system for our shower and bathtub water. We've been using it all summer to water our flowers, and it works great. It was really easy to make. Here are the components; we got most of them from the hardware store:
1. 33-gallon plastic garbage can for the garden
2. ''Pondmaster'' garden fountain pump 250GPH (put it inside the garbage can to pump water out into the garden hose)
3. two lengths of half-inch ''ID'' clear plastic tubing (enough from bathtub to garbage can, and then another piece to make the garden hose)
4. siphon with a bulb (looks sort of like a giant turkey baster) for hand pumping water from the bathtub - it has a connector for the tubing
5. plastic bucket or wastebasket to collect water in the shower

When we're showering, we catch the ''waiting-for-it-to-get-hot'' water in one of those blue recycling cans you see in offices, and then try to catch as much other shower water as we can by positioning the plastic wastebasket in a good spot. We don't use the bathtub very often, but when we do, we save it all (unless somebody has used bath oil -- don't put that in your garden!) We pump the water out using the hand siphon, whether from the bathtub or the shower. It takes 15 or 20 good hard sqeezes to get the siphon action going, and then it just drains the rest of the way by itself.

We ran the clear plastic tubing out of our bathroom window, down under the rafters, and into the garbage can below. Bathroom is on the 2nd floor so this took about 50'. Another length of tubing becomes the garden hose - one end is attached to the pump inside the garbage can, and the other end is where the water comes out. We needed about 40' for this. When we are ready to water the garden, we plug the pump in, water the plants, and then unplug when we're done. Remember to keep the watering end of the garden hose higher than the water level in the garbage can - otherwise, it will all drain out!

Our 33-gallon garbage can fills up 2-3 times a week, so that is how often I water the garden with the reclaimed water. The water is not really that gray -- it is mostly the water that went down the drain before, waiting for it to get hot. So it is not very soapy. My roses look great!

We have found that we still need to supplement with the irrigation system, but we turned it way down to about 25% of what we used last summer. I also moved all the plants together that need regular water, so that we rarely need to water the other parts of the garden where the plants are more natives and drought tolerant. Our water bill this summer is half what it was last summer. (We have cut back on water in other ways too, of course, but watering the garden with gray water has really made a difference.)

A couple other notes: Originally, we had the water flow directly from the bathroom into a drip line in the garden, skipping the garbage can with pump step. This resulted in some plants getting plenty of water and others not getting any, and it was a pain to have to keep moving the drip line around. We then hit on the garbage can, and tried a small Pondmaster from Berkeley Hort. It wasn't strong enough to pump the water into the hose, so we found we needed a 250 GPH. We tried different kinds of tubing, but the clear plastic worked best - it's softer and more flexible and also not such an eyesore when it's snaking out of the bathroom window. It's more expensive though, so measure carefully.

There are better ways to do this, no doubt, but we didn't want to spend much time or money on it!

May 2008

I first heard of Grey Water Systems on NPR and I've since read a little and especially given the water shortage I'm very interested in learning more. Does anyone have insight or suggestions on this front? I'm sure there are local businesses who install grey water systems. I'd love to get some contacts of who I can call for an estimate. Has anyone had good experiences or bad with one of these systems? Or can someone weigh-in on the pro's and cons? We have a small yard but we want to continue to tend our garden during the shortage, hence the interest. Thanks for your insights and info. bkldy

I recommend you take the tour of the grey water system (first permitted system in Berkeley) at the Eco House. There will be one on June 1st (I'm signed up for it)and you can register at That system was installed by the DIG collective: Claudia